Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Radio and Hurricanes

Over the more than 30 years I've been a DXer, one of the times I have taken advantage of throughout the years to DX that rare station is during a hurricane. The most recent event, Hurricane (Super Storm) Sandy, hit an area with a wealth of full-time, 50,000-watt AM stations. I was able to monitor the hurricane through New York 50 kW stations WABC 770 and WCBS 880, as well as KYW 1060 in Philadelphia, WBZ 1030 in Boston and KDKA 1020 in Pittsburgh. Of the stations I heard, KYW and WCBS had continuous local coverage of the hurricane as it slammed into the New Jersey coast. WABC used the ABC Radio Network for its coverage, including reports from hard-hit southern New Jersey, while KDKA was simulcasting the coverage from the CBS television network. WBZ did a call-in show with reports from areas in the path of this dangerous storm. All of these areas, at the time I heard these stations on October 29, were either hit hard by Sandy, or about to be hit. I thought WCBS did the best job of coverage, even mentioning the simulcast on WWFS 102.7 (Fresh 102.7) during the emergency, and carrying the news briefing from New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, at 10:00 p.m. local time (0200 UTC). 

I also monitored the Hurricane Watch Net on 14.325 MHz during the emergency. This is where I got firsthand reports from Amateur Radio operators in the area. One operator was reporting an outage in St. Albans, VT, while another in Springfield, MA was operating on emergency power. This is usually the best place for firsthand information on the hurricanes as they're approaching landfall, as well as for damage reports after the fact.

In recent years, I have not been hearing very many AM stations on day power during hurricane emergencies. Early in my DX career, I was able to hear a number of daytime-only AM stations on the air at night to relay hurricane information to the listeners. During a 1983 hurricane, I remember pulling in KANI 1500 Wharton, TX (I usually get KSTP St. Paul, MN on that frequency). When I got the verification from KANI, the verification signer noted that the reason why I received this little 500-watt station so far north is due to skip conditions from the hurricane. In 1985, I pulled in WASG 1140 Atmore, AL and WBHY 840 Mobile, AL as Hurricane Elena slammed into the Gulf Coast. In 1989, when Hurricane Hugo slammed into the South Carolina coast, WSB 750 Atlanta, GA (I lived 25 miles from downtown Atlanta at the time) provided continuous reports for the affected areas, along with WBT 1110 in Charlotte, NC (which got hit hard by Hugo). Two months after I returned to Hazelwood from the Atlanta area, I pulled in WINZ 940 Miami, FL during Hurricane Andrew. That station was on 50 kW non-directional during the hurricane, which inflicted major damage on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Even when Hurricane Floyd hit the North and South Carolina coast in 1999, I was able to monitor WBT 1110 for information. Contrast that with Hurricane Katrina, where the main station for coverage was WWL 870 New Orleans, instead of hearing other stations on day power. Another station I remember being on day power and pattern during a hurricane emergency was WPDQ 690 Jacksonville, FL (now WOKV). I remember hearing this one on regular schedule as WAPE. I'm thinking that many people in the affected areas are depending more and more on a powerful AM station, such as WWL, WBT or even the New York powerhouses than having local AM stations going to day power or pattern to provide information to their local audiences.

This is yet another effect of the changes that have taken place in the radio industry since 1996.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Your Closest Unheard

This question is more for the AM (MW) and FM broadcast band DXer, but it might also apply to shortwave radio. Which station is your closest unheard station?

On the AM side, my closest unheards are both in Illinois. For the life of me, I have never heard WJPF 1340 Herrin or WDQN 1580 Du Quoin, both 100 miles from my shack in Hazelwood. During the daytime on 1340, I primarily hear KXEO Mexico, MO (with a full-service Adult Contemporary format) or WSOY Decatur, IL (with a news and conservative talk format). One of the disadvantages I see is in the station's power. WJPF only operates with 770 watts; KXEO and WSOY both operate with 1,000 watts. Except for three hours a day, their programming is simulcast on WCIL 1020 in nearby Carbondale. 1340 at night is a hodgepodge of several stations, with WLOK Memphis, TN most frequently poking through with its Urban Gospel format.  Other 1340 stations that poke through frequently include the aforementioned KXEO and WSOY, along with WCDT in Winchester, TN, KROC in Rochester, MN and KDTD Kansas City, KS. That would make hearing WJPF a difficult proposition at my location.

By contrast, WDQN only broadcasts with 170 watts daytime, and very low power at night. Even with WBBA Pittsfield, IL off the air, hearing WDQN is also a difficult proposition. First off, I have a local during the day on 1570: WBGZ Alton, IL. The station does provide mild adjacent channel interference to any station on 1580. In recent years, the addition of digital service to another local, KATZ 1600 St. Louis, MO, has made things much worse in the interference department. It's made any attempt to hear WDQN on the AM side much more difficult. I'm very lucky that I've heard WDQN-FM on 95.9 MHz many times in the past, even after flipping to Christian programming from the Three Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN). It's also the only Illinois station I have NOT heard on 1580; I've heard the now-silent WKKD Aurora and WBCP Urbana in addition to WBBA. Hearing WDQN on 1580 is just as difficult of a proposition.

In the state of Missouri, where my shack is located, my closest unheard on AM is KDEX 1590 Dexter, at 140 miles. The digital operation of KATZ 1600 makes hearing the 620-watt daytimer an impossible proposition. During the daytime, when the digital interference from KATZ is minimized, WAIK Galesburg, IL (5,000 watts during the day) is dominant. There are a few stations in the Bootheel of Missouri that's difficult to hear because of adjacent channel locals or more powerful signals closer to the area. For example, one of the reasons why I haven't heard KMIS 1050 in Portageville (600 watts daytime only) is because of a 1,000-watt station only 110 miles away (WDZ Decatur, IL). 

On the FM side, my closest unheard is KDBB 104.3 Bonne Terre, MO (just 60 miles away). This is due to the fact that I have a local on 104.1 (WHHL, although it's licensed to Hazelwood, has their transmitter in University City) and a semi-local on 104.5 (KSLQ Washington, MO). WHHL's digital operation makes matter much worse, although I've nulled it out to hear stations like KMCR 103.9 Montgomery City, MO or WOMC 104.3 Detroit, MI. Even with my location being 17-25 miles from most of the local high-power FM stations, I have some trouble hearing adjacent channel stations through the digital interference. The only 100 kW station that does not broadcast in digital format is KLJY 99.1 Clayton, MO (with a Contemporary Christian format), which makes hearing FM stations on 98.9 a bit easier, although I have some splash on 99.3. I can bring it down enough to the west to hear KCLR Boonville, MO.

What are your closest unheards on AM (MW) and FM? If you include shortwave, that closest unheard on that band could be one thousands of miles away. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What's In a Name? Pirate Radio Station Names

Some of the most interesting station names have come out of the world of pirate radio. Many of the older generation may remember Jolly Roger Radio from way back when. The first pirate I heard was called "Up Your Radio", back in 1997. I thought that "Up Your Radio" was inspired by another term that's so frequently uttered (I'm not going to mention the phrase). The verification I got from the station was quite interesting in itself; it features a picture that may have been taken from one of the supermarket tabloids. (What the alien said to Newt Gingrich wasn't my idea, even if I did used to live in his district..)

Another one I heard was XEROX. Even the name is based on the photocopier: "Radio Duplicado". The picture of the "Director Gerente", Bart Sambo, is really that of NASWA's QSL editor, Sam Barto. Somehow, would you think it's also a tribute to XEROK (800 kHz) in Ciudad Juarez?

Many of us also remember "The Voice of Bob" and its successors, "The Radio Airplane", "WHYP, The James Brownyard Memorial Station" and even "Radio Michigan International." One of my favorite pirate QSLs was from Radio Michigan International; it was one of my first eQSLs!

Some other pirates also used the calls of existing radio stations. One station that IDed with an already issued call sign from way back when was WKND, "Weekend Radio". That's assigned to a radio station in Connecticut. Another one, called "Pirate Radio Central", used the calls KPRC, assigned to a radio and TV station in Houston, TX. Another one used "WARR"...that, last I heard, was assigned to Warrenton, VA. And WHYP? That was reassigned within the last two years to a radio station in Corry, PA, in eastern Erie County.

Today's pirates keep up the tradition of unique names, such as the ones I've recently heard, "Radio Ronin Shortwave", "XFM Shortwave", "Red Mercury Labs" and "Wolverine Radio". Some pirate stations use Morse Code today; others use slow scan television to identify themselves at the end of their transmissions. Two examples came from Fuzzy Radio and Wolverine Radio.


What names will follow in the tradition of unique names associated with pirate radio? Who knows? Regardless what the name of the station is, the programming is enjoyable. Maybe one will send you a CD of their program, like Undercover Radio did for me back in 2003? Would we hear a "Voice of Jim"? "Radio Lunkhead"? "Inga Calling"? You never know in the world of pirate radio.

Pirate radio is one of the most interesting aspects of our hobby. You'll need a better antenna than a whip to receive these stations, along with a good receiver. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

20 Years in Amateur Radio

Today marks another milestone in my radio life. It was 20 years ago today that I was issued my FCC Technician Class license. I was lucky to get one of the last one-by-three calls. I have kept this call (NØUIH) through upgrades to General and Extra Class licenses.

My Amateur Radio journey began in the mid-1970s, when I was a child of eight years old. A cousin on my mother's side of the family, Jim Marshall (WAØQEV), got his license sometime in the mid-1960s. He kept a Heathkit HF rig in his vehicle, so he could take his hobby on the road. He also kept another Heathkit HF rig at his place of residence, which was then in Rogersville, MO (east of Springfield). He also became a Citizens' Band operator, with the handle of Alligator Man. I was Alligator Boy at first, but after experimenting with other handles, finally settled on Alligator Junior. That led to my purchasing a Midland 13-863 23-channel CB base radio, and, later on, a Radio Shack three-channel CB handheld transceiver. Some of my fellow Hams also took to calling it "The Chicken Band". His phrase when he calls CQ still resonates: "What say ya?", said in his distinct Texas style.

In 1983, I had my first eyeball QSO with Vernon Jackson (WAØRCR). His shack was located on Charbonier Road in Florissant at the time. With his 375-watt AM transmitter, tuned to 1860 kHz, he blasted into my QTH (which was then on Lamplight Lane) like KMOX 1120 did. I even heard him on the image frequency of 950 kHz. I also talked to some of his fellow Hams with him supervising the operating process. At this point, I had been DXing the broadcast bands for two years, and was moving into DXing the Hams as a shortwave listener. I also had a few Hams living close by, like Mike Moore (WDØEFP), the late Bill Bottomley (WØKZX, SK) and Tom Vogel (WAØKGU, now WAØTV). During the four years I spent in Georgia (1988-92), I heard plenty of Hams on the HF bands. I also had a Ham who lived a few miles from where my shack was (on the Cobb-Cherokee County line). In 1991, I visited Bob Lipscomb (K4RKP) in his shack in Kennesaw. I relayed his check-in to the Gateway 160 Meter Net by phone to Vern Jackson. Bob signed my QSL letters for WAFS 920 Atlanta (now WGKA), one for Woodstock and the other for a reception at Hazelwood. Just before returning to the St. Louis area, I decided to try for the entry level Technician Class license, which didn't require proficiency in the Morse Code. I passed the Element 2 exam at the Zero Beaters Hamfest in Washington, MO, followed by the Element 3B at the St. Charles County Hamfest.

For the next 13 years, much of my activity had been on VHF in FM mode. My main rig for the first 10 years was a Realistic HTX-202 2-meter handheld transceiver. I added a Mirage B-34-G linear amplifier in 2001, replacing the HTX-202 with an ICOM IC-T2H Sport handheld in 2002. I worked a little DX before getting an MFJ-9402 2-meter VHF SSB rig in 2005. That kindled my interest in working DX on VHF. The first night I had it, there was a tropospheric enhancement opening into the Southeast and Mid-South. I worked stations in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee as well as southern Illinois and southern Missouri. In 2006, I entered the ARRL January VHF Sweepstakes, and won in the Missouri section award in the single operator, high power category on 2 Meters. That fall, I purchased a 6 meter station from John Verser (NØTOP) in Kirkwood. The station included a Kenwood TS-60, a halo antenna (which I later donated to St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club for its Field Day operations) and an MFJ-906 antenna tuner. I added a Cushcraft three-element beam in January 2007, in time to win the Missouri section, single operator, low power category on 6 meters, in the 2007 edition of the January VHF Sweepstakes.  This has given me many hours of enjoyment on many a summer day and night. 

The mastery of Morse Code was always a sore spot for me. It wasn't until the fall of 2006 that I was motivated to learn the Morse Code. I was able to set up some tutoring sessions on the Morse Code with Dr. Andy Lozowski (WØPH), a professor in the School of Engineering at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I mastered the copying of 12 Morse Code characters by the time the code requirement was eliminated for General and Extra Class exams in February 2007. In June of that year, I passed the exam to upgrade from a General Class to a Technician Class license. It took two tries to get both the initial no-code Tech license and the upgrade to General. Despite the upgrade, I still stuck to VHF, earning the nickname "Mr. Six Meters" from the Secretary of the St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club, Cliff Rozar (KCØSDV).

My operations expanded in January 2010 with the purchase of an ICOM IC-745 HF transceiver from one of the members of the Boeing Employees' Amateur Radio Society, Dave (K2DP). That's when I really began working the DX. I switched an MFJ-1778 G5RV antenna, which I had been using for shortwave listening since 1997, to working the HF bands. I built a dipole for shortwave listening. As of October 1, 2012, I have 61 countries confirmed, along with over 170 grid squares on 6 meters.

Who knows what the next 20 years will hold? Only God knows. But, I'll be looking forward to many more years of great contacts on the Amateur Radio bands.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Art of QSLing...from a Listener/Broadcaster's Perspective

While I've been in the DX hobby since 1981, I spent 22 years in the broadcast industry, mainly in non-commercial and not-for-profit broadcasting. During those 22 years, I took some breaks to work in non-broadcast occupations. Having been on both ends of the QSL equation, I'd like to offer my 45 cents on the art of QSLing.

From the DXer's perspective, each new QSL is exciting. Whether it be that first one from WWV or the latest one from Family Radio via Ascension Island, I found each new QSL to be exciting. When it came from an international broadcaster, it's usually a QSL card. Sometimes, it would feature the country's flag and the station's coverage area. There are others that show the major landmarks of a given country. Domestic broadcasters, especially on AM and FM, more often send letters of verification than QSL cards. A few of the most powerful AM stations in the U.S., along with many around the world still send out QSL cards, although I've gotten a few from FM stations, and even a handful from TV stations in the U.S. and Canada. From my experience as a DXer, I learned all about putting together program details, from something as simple as a station identification to the subject of the discussion that was airing. Mentioning some subjects or names that the announcers were talking about is very helpful in getting that QSL card or letter. A long list of songs played is not as helpful, although the type of music played will also help you get that QSL. For example, it's best to simply put "Classical music" in the program details if the station isn't playing a piece familiar to you, although you might mention if the station had a segment devoted to a single composer. For example, such a description could be "Classical music, featuring selections by Beethoven." Many broadcasters, especially AM, FM and TV stations, require program details for a QSL, although there may be some exceptions. One example in my experience was getting a QSL card from WLIO 35 Lima, OH for a report in WTFDA's VHF-UHF Digest. The QSL card below is the first one I received, for an October 1981 reception of WWV on 10 MHz.

From the perspective of the broadcaster, the art of QSLing is something worth teaching to a station manager or engineer. When I was working at WFTD 1080 Marietta, GA in the late '80s and early '90s, Rocky Payne was my boss. At the time, WFTD was a Christian radio ministry owned by Pneuma, Inc. (pneuma is Greek for "spirit"; in this case, the Holy Spirit) and based at Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta. I was able to use my experience as a DXer to teach him the art of QSLing. As a 10,000-watt daytimer at the time, and even now, as a 50,000-watt daytimer under different ownership based in Gwinnett County, the station would naturally receive a number of reception reports from various parts of the country, especially for receptions at sunrise and sunset. In 1993, I was able to hear WFTD sign on at 0645 CST.  I wrote the verification form letter. Here's the verification letter from WFTD.

I've even been the signer for a small number of verification letters over the years, mainly during the nine years I was at WSIE 88.7 Edwardsville, IL. Many of the reports I got were of listeners in mobile applications hearing WSIE's signal, such as a listener who pulled in the station while driving on the New York State Thruway in western New York. Several of my fellow DXers have signed far more QSLs as I have, most notable being Tom Bryant when he was at WSM Nashville and Jerry Starr when he was working in radio in Youngstown, OH. A number of DXers serve as QSL managers today; most notably Patrick Martin, who serves as QSL Manager ("Reception Manager", as he calls it) for KGED 1680 Fresno, CA. There are also radio clubs that act as QSL managers, such as the Ontario DX Association for numerous stations in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. I even volunteered to be QSL Manager for the Buddy Tucker Evangelistic Association's stations, but was rebuffed by Brother Tucker himself.

The majority of QSL signers for AM, FM and TV stations are the engineers, whether he or she is a full-time engineer or a contract engineer. Station managers, such as a General Manager, Operations Manager, Sales Manager or Program Director, have also signed their fair share of verification requests. I even have a few verification letters in my collection that were signed by those who write ad copy for the station. The verification letters I signed at WSIE was in my position as Public Service Director. The art of QSLing is an art that all station managers, regardless of how big or small they are, should learn. It can be a helpful tool in strengthening the station's relationship, not only with distant listeners, but also with listeners closer to the station. Having been on both ends of the equation, being both the recipient of the QSL and the QSL signer is a great feeling for me, even three years after I retired from the broadcast business (which wasn't my choice).

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Your Location Could Influence Your DX

Through my experience as a DXer of the AM (MW), FM, shortwave and VHF weather radio bands, I have given thought to how a DXer's location can affect what he or she hears. Of course, local and semi-local stations are factors in what a person can hear or can't hear. Here's my observations on how the location of my listening post can affect what I can hear.

First, let's take a look at where my shack is location on the map. My listening post is located approximately 15 miles northwest of the Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis. It's also located three miles north of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, eight miles west of the state line with Illinois, and roughly three miles east of the Missouri River. Perhaps the suburban location may not affect DX much, even with a ground conductivity value of 15. Ground conductivity is very important in relation to the AM (MW) broadcast band. The nearest AM transmitter site is 10 miles west of me: that of KHOJ (1460 kHz) on State Road 94 in Boschertown (KHOJ is licensed to St. Charles, MO). KHOJ broadcasts pretty much a north-south pattern to protect WROY in Carmi, IL (also on 1460 kHz). At that distance, I can pull in WFMB Springfield, IL on 1450 kHz and WMBD Peoria, IL on 1470 kHz, both with a fair signal. At night, when the station cuts back to 210 watts from 5 kW, I can null KHOJ out to pull in some DX; in recent months, I've pulled in WKAM Goshen, IN with Spanish language programming for the South Bend/Elkhart market. On the FM and DTV sides, most of the local transmitters are between 17 and 30 miles from my location. In the past, I've been able to pull DX through my local stations. For example, I've pulled three stations in on 88.1 with KDHX (whose transmitter is in Arnold, MO) on the air. In 1994, I pulled E-skip in from WJIS Bradenton, FL (6/27) and KGNZ Abilene, TX (6/28). In September of 1998, I pulled in KJTY Topeka, KS with KDHX nulled. I've even pulled in DX through 100 kW locals: most notably WENS 97.1 Shelbyville, IN (through what was then KXOK) on July 25, 1999, KUDL 98.1 Kansas City, KS (through KYKY) on July 10, 1995 and KPRS 103.3 Kansas City, MO (KLOU nulled) on July 8, 1999. During the analog era, my locals have either been nulled to pull in DX (such as KMBC 9 Kansas City, MO with KETC nulled, or WHAS-TV 11 Louisville, KY with KPLR nulled) or DX has been pulled in through the local (such as KGAN 2 Cedar Rapids, IA through KTVI, WOI-TV 5 Ames, IA through KSDK, WPTY 24 Memphis, TN or WNWO 24 Toledo, OH through KNLC). In the digital era, I've pulled in DX through a few of my locals. One such example came in July 2008, when I pulled in KSMO 47 Kansas City, MO with local WRBU nulled. Here's the video capture:

Now, let's take a look at my location in the state of Missouri. I am on the eastern end of the state of Missouri. It is possible that the only area of the state where a DXer can log the most stations from Missouri is the central part of the state, around the Columbia/Jefferson City area. If one lives in Joplin, the states bordering the southwest part of Missouri (Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma) might be more favored than in-state stations. If one lives in the northwest part of Missouri, the states bordering that area (Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska) would be favored, as far as DX is concerned, over in-state stations. With my location on the eastern end of Missouri, does my location favor DX from Illinois? If my logbook is any indicator, it certainly does. From the Land of Lincoln, I have logged 109 AM stations, 187 FM stations, 62 analog TV stations, 32 digital TV stations and 23 NOAA Weather Radio stations. By contrast, I've logged 93 AM, 162 FM, 45 analog TV, 31 digital TV and 23 NOAA Weather Radio stations from Missouri. Illinois is my top state on AM, FM and analog TV, second on digital TV, and tied for first (with Missouri) on NOAA Weather Radio. By contrast, Missouri is second on AM and FM, third on digital and analog TV. My location has also favored Indiana more than Missouri on analog and digital TV; the Hoosier State is second on analog TV and the top state on digital TV. Cities like Evansville, Vincennes and Terre Haute are less than 200 miles from my listening post, helping my Indiana TV totals.

In the United States, I am located in the central part of the country, less than 10 miles from the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi. How does that affect my totals? On AM, my totals have not only favored the Midwest, but also the South. When I look at my AM totals, Illinois and Missouri are my top two states, but the other three states of my top five on AM are all Southern. Texas is third, closely followed by Tennessee and Alabama. On FM, it's favored mainly the Midwest. Illinois and Missouri are #1 and #2, but my third most productive state for FM DX is also my most productive E-skip state: Florida. Fourth is Iowa, with Indiana rounding out the top five. Analog and digital TV also favor states close to Missouri; on analog TV, Kentucky and Ohio round out the top five. On digital TV, Iowa and Kentucky round out the top five.

In the world, my location is in the northern hemisphere, just 23 miles west of 90 degrees west and some 70 miles north of the 38th parallel. While the shortwave broadcasters are targeting North America a lot less, it really depends on where the shortwave station is directing their signal. For example, a shortwave signal beamed from eastern or southern Africa toward western Africa can be heard in eastern and central parts of the United States. Likewise with a signal beamed toward the Pacific from Australia. I can even pull in strong signals from close-in shortwave stations like WWCR Nashville, TN (270 miles/435 kilometers as the crow flies from my shack) or WWRB Manchester, TN (320 miles/515 km as the crow flies). 

I'm sure your location plays a part in what you hear.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rebuilding the Web Site

After several years of dormancy, I decided that it was time to revive my Web site. I made several changes to the site.

First off, I decided to remove the logbooks from the site. It was becoming cumbersome to maintain seasonal logbooks; most of them came from the late 1990s and early 2000s. All of the new stations I've heard over the past several years, especially on AM (MW) and FM broadcast, would take up way too much space. That feature is gone.

Second, I've put my links to my audio files on the front page of the site. I started recording my DX on the computer in 2010, and bought an MP3 conversion module for my Magix Music Maker 2005 program last fall. I've been able to convert the previously recorded DX from Wave files (WAV) to MP3 files, in addition to recording new DX on MP3 files, either directly or from cassette recordings. I use a cassette recorder as the primary method of recording DX, as I've done since the early 1990s when I was DXing from northwest Georgia. It's amazing how much DX I've recorded over the past two decades. My DX recordings are stored on Box, which offers 5 GB of space for free.

Third, I've also redone the Club Links to only include clubs I'm a member of. The longest association with one club has been with St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club; I joined Suburban Radio Club in April 1993; they have since joined forces with the St. Louis Repeater club to form St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club. I've been associated with IRCA (International Radio Club of America), an all-AM broadcast band DX club, continuously since 1994, and have served as an editor, publisher and, at present, Editor-in-Chief. While I've been an off-and-on member of WTFDA (Worldwide TV-FM DX Association) since the mid-1980s, I've been a member almost continuously since 1993, with a few breaks. I've also been an off-and-on member of several other clubs throughout my 30-plus years in DXing, and my nearly two decades as an Amateur Radio operator.

Fourth, I've added a statistics page to the site. The statistics posted, however, are not all reconciled with the chronological log I keep on Microsoft Excel. I have been keeping my logs on a computer since 1992, when I returned to the St. Louis area from northwest Georgia. In all of my statistics by state/province, it's usually Illinois that's tops in the number of stations logged, even though I live in Missouri. My location, on the eastern end of the state, favors the Land of Lincoln over the Show-Me State. I keep statistics for AM, FM, TV (analog and digital; I keep separate logs for ATV and DTV) and NOAA Weather Radio. I haven't been too good with keeping stats on shortwave stations since the early 1990s.

Photo galleries have also been updated; I selected a few pictures from my collection for the site; I did keep the pictures of myself on the air at KCFV 89.5 MHz Ferguson, MO from 1995, and hawking raffle tickets at the Halloween Hamfest in 1998, on the site. I also added a few pics of my shack and an outdoor setup to the album. On my TV DX photo page, I included a few photo highlights from the 2000s, including some of my first DX logs on digital TV.

Take a look at my newly renovated Web site today.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

E-Skip Opening on July 24, 2012

When I turned on my radio and television receivers on the afternoon of July 24, 2012, I was in for a treat. It was just after 4:00 p.m. local time (2100 UTC), after working a few stations on 6 meters in the Mid-Atlantic states, that I turned on my FM receivers. It was filled with distant signals. My digital TV tuner was lighting up E-skip signals on channels 4 and 6. Although the signal on channel 6 was not strong enough to get even some call letter information, the one on channel 4 did give me call letter information. It was my first TV station of any kind from the Garden State. Here's the pic to prove it.

The opening reached well into the FM the NOAA Weather Radio band. I first logged KHB38 162.400 MHz Atlantic City, NJ on the big opening of July 6, 2004. I relogged the station on that opening. But, the best signal of the opening came on 162.475 MHz from KIH28 in Philadelphia. It was just after 5:00 p.m. St. Louis time (2200 UTC) that I pulled in a severe thunderstorm warning for southern New Jersey. I post a lot of my DX recordings to Box, and here's the link for the audio file:

KIH28 162.475 MHz Philadelphia, PA

I also noted my shortest E-skip on this opening: WFHG-FM 92.9 Bluff City, TN. At 470 miles, this shatters the record of 560 miles, set by WMEZ 94.1 Pensacola, FL in 1994 and KQDS-FM 94.9 Duluth, MN in 2008. 

WFHG-FM 92.9 Bluff City, TN 

I noted several D.C. area stations in this opening; I got a chance to record WMZQ 98.7 and WRQX 107.3.

WMZQ 98.7 Washington, DC WRQX 107.3 Washington, DC 

Even a relay of a D.C. station made it in. American University's WAMU 88.5 has a relay station in Ocean City, MD. 

WRAU 88.3 Ocean City, MD

By the early evening hours, the action shifted to the southwest. Analog channel 2 had at least three stations coming in; one of those that dominated was XEPM-TV in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, TX. Here's a pic:

A few stations did make it from the Southwest. The farthest one on this opening was from KPXK 98.7 Phoenix, AZ.

KPXK 98.7 Phoenix, AZ 

I also had a few Mexicans in; this one is from XHBW 93.3 Chihuahua. This one also identified its AM affiliate, XEBW 1280 kHz.

XHBW 93.3 Chihuahua, CI, Mexico

This E-skip opening is one I'll remember for a long time.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

DXing in Hazelwood vs. Woodstock and Marietta, GA

On June 29, 2012, I reached another milestone; it's been 20 years since I returned to Hazelwood, MO (my present QTH is two blocks away from where I began my DX career back in 1981) after a four-year stay on the Cobb-Cherokee county line in Georgia. From August 1988 to June 1991, I lived on the Cherokee County side of the line in Woodstock. My QTH in Woodstock was on the higher end of an incline down into a cul-de-sac. It would be high enough to pursue FM and TV DXing at that location. From June 1991 to June 1992, I lived on the Cobb County side of the line near Marietta. It was on a high ridge, so it was also conducive to FM and TV DXing.

One of the major differences I noticed between the St. Louis area and metro Atlanta is the ground conductivity values. (Note that there is no such thing as a value of "zero"; the lowest value is 1, up to 30.) In most of metro Atlanta, the ground conductivity is very poor (1). With that in mind, some of the stations you would normally expect to have good signals at 25 miles on groundwave are either very weak or non-existent. The only Atlanta AM to have a consistently strong signal day and night is 50 kW blowtorch WSB 750. WCNN 680 and WQXI 790 beam their night signals southwest; WQXI (1 kW at night), with its transmitter site at the time in midtown Atlanta, had a signal that faded out on I-75 north of Canton Highway in Cobb County; it also has trouble getting into northern Fulton County; on my first visit there, Radio Reloj from Cuba took out WQXI   in Roswell and Sandy Springs. WCNN 680 (10 kW at night), with its transmitter site along the banks of the Chattahoochee River east of Roswell, is inaudible in Cherokee County and parts of Cobb County. Most nights, WPTF Raleigh, NC takes them out. The only other Atlanta AM stations who had audible signals in Woodstock at night were WKHX 590 (now WDWD), WGST 640 (and predecessor WPBD) and WAFS 920 (now WGKA), plus WDUN 550 in Gainesville. One advantage 590 had was that their transmitter site was in Austell, in southern Cobb County. The ground conductivity is poor (2) in Cobb County. WAOK 1380, while inaudible at night on the Cherokee County side of the line, was audible with a fair to poor signal at night on the Cobb County side of the line. None of the stations operating with powers lower than 1 kW at night made it past I-285 or Georgia 120. WNIV 970 (39 watts) was audible in the parking lot of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, but not on either the Cobb or Cherokee County side of the line. At that location, Louisville, KY dominated 970. WNIV's night signal did make it to Hazelwood on one occasion. WGUN 1010 (70 watts) was also audible in the parking lot of RSBC, but not on the Cobb-Cherokee County line, where New York and Toronto ruled the frequency. WGUN has been noted in Hazelwood once at Atlanta sunrise. WYZE 1480 (44 watts) was also audible in the RSBC parking lot, but not on the Cobb-Cherokee County line, where Mobile, AL was dominant. WYZE's night signal has also been heard in Hazelwood on one occasion. Even 500-watt WYNX (now WAZX), with a strong signal near downtown Marietta, was also non-existent on the Cobb-Cherokee County line. In those days, 1550 was dominated by Huntsville, AL. By contrast, the ground conductivity in the St. Louis area is very good (15). At night, the only way DX can be heard through local stations on lower frequencies is in a tight null when conditions are very good. Some of the AM stations on higher frequencies are easier to null at night. For example, only a tight null can be put on KTRS 550 (which beams their night signal in my direction) to pull in KTSA San Antonio, TX. It's a bit easier to put a null on KXFN 1380 or KZQZ 1430. I've pulled in Sperry, OK or Millington, TN through the local on 1380; on 1430, I've pulled in Toronto or Indianapolis with The Krazy Q nulled. The lower power stations are either very easy to null or non-existent at night. For example, KSTL 690 (18 watts) is barely audible; New Orleans usually takes them out. KSIV 1320 (270 watts, beamed toward west St. Louis County) can also be nulled out; I most often hear Houston with the local station nulled. KHOJ 1460 (210 watts), even with my QTH being less than 10 miles from their Boschertown transmitter site, is nullable. I've been hearing Goshen, IN and Buford, GA in recent months. Alton, IL is 15 miles northeast of my QTH, yet, WBGZ 1570 (74 watts) is either equal with Mexico or dominant at night. Going west, the ground conductivity drops to good (8) in Warren County. KWRE 730, when they were broadcasting with 120 watts at night (they're temporarily 1 kW non-directional, daytime only) was dominant for the first 90 minutes after sunset before Mexico or some of the Southern stations take over. KMOX 1120, the local 50 kW blowtorch, cannot be nulled at night. When they're not broadcasting in digital, however, DX can be heard on 1110 and 1130; most often Omaha on 1110 and Shreveport on 1130. When I was in Atlanta, I logged St. Louis metro stations on 550, 590, 630, 690, 770, 850, 1120, 1260, 1380 and 1430. Since returning to Hazelwood, I've logged metro Atlanta stations on 610, 640, 680, 750, 790, 920, 970, 1010, 1080, 1190, 1260, 1380, 1480, 1550, 1570 and 1600, plus a few that either moved to new frequencies, such as 1040 in Conyers (they were on 1050 when I was living in metro Atlanta) or stations that signed on since I left Atlanta (such as 1690 in Avondale Estates).

From the perspective of an FM or TV DXer, even the simplest of antennas can be used to pull in DX! One of the advantages Atlanta has over St. Louis is its height above sea level. When I was living in Woodstock and Marietta, the area was over 1,000 feet above sea level. Hazelwood is about 700 feet above sea level. When I started with TV DX, I used a UHF bow tie or loop on good tropospheric enhancement openings to pull in stations from Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville or Kansas City. Fellow metro Atlanta TV DXer John Broomall proved it by using a bow tie UHF antenna to pull in places as diverse as Mobile, AL and Chicago. Before 1994, I had used a pair of rabbit ears for FM DX. My results were good at my original QTH, very good when I lived in metro Atlanta. I pulled in FM DX from throughout the eastern United States and Central America with the setup; after adding a Realistic STA-90 AM/FM/FM Stereo receiver in 1990, I was able to pull in a station on 88.9 from Belize through WMBW. Even a built-in telescoping whip antenna could pull in DX; a radio with VHF-TV audio reception capability was in the kitchen at the Woodstock QTH. Late one afternoon, I pulled in the audio from KENW 3 Portales, NM. I had a boombox with a 4.5-inch black and white TV (a Christmas gift in 1988) at my location, which I took along. On a night in June 1992, DXer Bill Alisauskas in Douglasville informed me about receiving KGAN 2 Cedar Rapids, IA through local WSB-TV. I also pulled in KGAN through WSB-TV on channel 2, and also proceeded to null down WAGA on channel 5 to pull in KFYR-TV Bismarck, ND. While I never logged a St. Louis TV station from metro Atlanta (although KDNL 30 was a possibility after local WPBA signed off, as well as KNLC 24), I did log St. Louis metro stations on 90.7, 92.3, 93.7, 99.1, 102.5, 105.7 and 107.7 (all on one November night in 1988). I've been using an outdoor yagi since returning to Hazelwood (the previous owners of my present QTH) were kind enough to leave a TV antenna mast); I've logged a number of my ex-locals on FM and analog TV (I've yet to log Atlanta on digital TV). On FM, I've logged 90.1, 92.9, 94.1, 96.1, 98.5, 99.7 and 101.5 from metro Atlanta, plus 107.1 from the Rome area. On analog TV, I've logged channels 17, 36, 57 (which came on after I left Atlanta) and 69, plus 18 from Chatsworth (near Dalton). Had I started NOAA Weather Radio DXing back in the late '80s and early '90s, I probably would have logged mainly Southeastern or lower Midwestern states (such as southeast MO, southern IL or southwestern IN).

Another aspect of that location was its close proximity to not only Atlanta, but also to Chattanooga, TN (75 miles NW of the Cobb-Cherokee County line). WMBW 88.9, WDYN 89.7, WDEF-FM 92.3, WDOD-FM 96.5 were semi-locals from Chattanooga proper; other semi-locals from Chattanooga were WSMC 90.5 in Collegedale and WUSY 100.7 in Cleveland. WDEF-FM became the station I listened to for Easy Listening music after WPCH 94.9 (now WUBL) flipped to Soft AC in 1990. On the AM side, the best signal out of Chattanooga was WGOW 1150. During the day, I could null out locals on 1260 and 1310 to get Chattanooga stations (WNOO and now-silent WDOD); WDEF 1370 had a decent signal next to WAOK. Even WFLI 1070 from Lookout Mountain was audible next to WFTD on 1080. On the TV side, I most frequently pulled in WRCB 3 or WDSI 61 from Chattanooga. WTVC 9 and WDEF-TV 12 were also regular visitors most days; WFLI-TV 53 was an occasional visitor from Cleveland, TN. The PBS member station in Chattanooga, WTCI 45, would be an occasional visitor, even with WGNX 46 (now WGCL-TV on channel 19) on the air. Since returning to Hazelwood, I've logged Chattanooga AMs on 1150 and 1370, as well as 1570 in Cleveland. On the FM side, Chattanooga stations have been noted in Hazelwood on 88.9 and 89.7, as well as 100.7 in Cleveland. Only WTCI 45 and WDSI 61 were noted in Hazelwood before the digital conversion in 2009. My QTH, by contrast, is in close proximity to Springfield, IL (80 miles NE). I've logged all the AM stations there (970, 1240, 1450), all the FMs except for 88.3, the NOAA Weather Radio station on 162.400, all the full power analog TV stations (20, 49, 55) and their digital successors (13, 42, 44), as well as three LPTV stations (28, 33, 65).

Another contrast is which cities are in tropo range of this particular location. When I was living in metro Atlanta, all of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas was within tropo range, along with most of Florida, southern Illinois, southern Indiana, southeastern Missouri, northeastern Texas and the non-mountainous parts of South Carolina. The mountains influence tropo range to the east and northeast, thereby limiting FM DX coming from North Carolina and Virginia. My farthest tropo FM DX noted in Georgia was 99.1 in Fort Smith, AR. By contrast, St. Louis is pretty much on flat and open terrain; all of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Arkansas are within tropo range, along with most of Oklahoma, Kansas, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, the lower peninsula of Michigan,  western parts of Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, northwest Georgia, eastern Nebraska, southeastern South Dakota and southern Minnesota are all within tropo range of the St. Louis area. The only influences on tropo reception come from the Ozark Plateau in southwest MO and northwest AR, which explains why I have not heard any tropospheric enhancement propagation from Texas. The Appalachians and Blue Ridge Mountains may have some influence, but I've still pulled in TV DX from western parts of Virginia and West Virginia. Even Buffalo, NY and Toronto, ON has made it via tropo on UHF TV channels.

In the 20 years since I returned to Hazelwood, I've logged a huge chunk of DX. As of July 11, 2012 at 1200 CDT, I've logged 1,319 AM stations, 1,167 FM stations and 567 analog TV stations since June 29, 1992. I started my NOAA Weather Radio log in 2001; I've logged 103 stations. My digital TV logbook started in 2005; that count is now at 145. 

Here's my top ten states on each band:

AM: 1) Illinois (108), 2) Missouri (93), 3) Texas (87), 4) Tennessee (85), 5) Alabama (63), 6) Georgia (52), 7) Wisconsin (49), 8) Iowa (46), 9) Kentucky (44), 10) Arkansas (43)

FM: 1) Illinois (187), 2) Missouri (161), 3) Florida (64), 4) Iowa (59), 5) Indiana (47), 6) Texas (43), 7) Tennessee (37), 8) Kentucky (33), 9) Kansas (29), 10) Michigan (21)

Analog TV: 1) Illinois (62), 2) Indiana (48), 3) Missouri (45), 4) Kentucky (35), 5) Ohio (32), 6) Iowa (26), 7) Michigan (24), 8) Alabama (21), 9) Tennessee (20), 10) Wisconsin (18)

NOAA Weather Radio: 1) Illinois (23), 2) Missouri (22), 3) Iowa (11), 4) Kansas (8), 5) Arkansas (6), tie) Indiana (6), 8) Alabama (5), tie) Tennessee (5). Log began January 6, 2001.

Digital TV: 1) Indiana (36), 2) Illinois (31), 3) Missouri (30), 4) Iowa (14), 5) Kentucky (8), 6) Ohio (7), 7) Tennessee (6), 8) Michigan (4), 9) Kansas (2), 10) Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, New York, South Dakota, Texas (tied with one apiece). Log began September 19, 2005.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

20 Years as a "Ham" Coming Up

It's amazing how time flies when you're an Amateur Radio operator. On October 6, 2012, I will reach another milestone: 20 years as an Amateur Radio operator.

I've come a long way from my first Technician Class license in 1992, when I did all my activity on a handheld transceiver. My first one was a Realistic HTX-202, since I only had privileges above 50 MHz. I got my first exposure to emergency communications during the Flood of 1993, helping out with communications duty in St. Charles County. It made me realize the value of Amateur Radio in emergencies. I added a five-eighths wave ground plane after the flood. I took part in my first Field Day in 1994 with the Suburban Radio Club (now St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club). While my Amateur Radio activity tailed off in the 1998-2002 time period, I still renewed my license when it expired in 2002. As I was a radio announcer, I thought it would be a great idea to promote Amateur Radio on the air, especially Field Day. The first time I did an interview for Field Day was in 1998 at WFUN-FM 95.5, when I interviewed SRC's then-President, Ed Kimble. In 2000, while I was at WSIE, I interviewed Mike Moore the day before Field Day. From 2002 to 2009, I interviewed numerous people involved with the hobby, including Steve Schmitz, another past SLSRC President, along with Bill Coby, a past President of the Egyptian Radio Club, Rich Morgan from the Lewis and Clark Radio Club, and Steve Wooten, the Emergency Coordinator for St. Louis County (an EC heads up the local Amateur Radio Emergency Service, or ARES, group).

I have to admit, I did struggle to learn the Morse Code. I made an effort to learn the Morse Code during the Fall semester of 2006, with the help of a professor at the SIUE School of Engineering, Dr. Andy Lozowski. I mastered twelve Morse Code characters before the FCC did away with the Morse Code requirements for General and Extra Class licenses in 2007.

As I recall, it took two tries to pass the Technician Class exam. I passed Element 2 of the exam at the Zero Beaters Hamfest in Washington, MO in July 1992, but failed the Element 3B. I passed that element the following month at the St. Charles Hamfest, taking the exam in an auditorium at St. Joseph Hospital. After the Morse Code requirement was dropped for General and Extra, I decided to study for the written General Class exam. It took me two tries in June 2007. I failed on the first attempt at the Cliff Cave branch of the St. Louis County Library in Oakville, MO. The following week, after some extra study, I passed on the second attempt. I decided to make it a priority to get my General Class ticket before the question pool changed on July 1, 2007.

I did something different to study for my Extra Class exam...take a crash course. This was offered through the St. Louis and Suburban Radio club at the National Office of Boys Hope-Girls Hope in Bridgeton, MO. I spent one weekend in May 2012 with the Extra crash course after doing plenty of studying. I studied for one more week after wrapping up the crash course before taking the Extra Class exam on May 22, 2012. Unlike with the first two times, I passed on the first try. Again, I took the exam at the Cliff Cave branch of the St. Louis County Library in Oakville.

The equipment has changed over the years; I used a handheld transceiver exclusively as my main station equipment until 2005, first with a Realistic HTX-202, switching to an ICOM IC-2TH Sport when the HTX-202 blew its transmitter. In 2005, I added an MFJ-9402 2 meter SSB transceiver (which blew in 2009), and worked several new states with the rig (driving a Mirage B-34-G linear amp, which I originally purchased for the ICOM HT in 2003, along with a Diamond five-elemebt beam, vertically polarized) and a second Diamond five-element beam (horizontally polarized). The following year, I added a 6 meter station, with a Kenwood TS-60 (which is NOT for sale!) and a halo (which I later donated to the St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club for Field Day operations). The six-meter station was purchased from a fellow Ham in Kirkwood. In January 2007, I added a Cushcraft three-element beam for 6 meters in time for the ARRL January VHF Sweepstakes. I added an HF rig, an ICOM IC-745 purchased at the Winterfest (sponsored by SLSRC) in January 2010. The antenna I use for HF is an MFJ-1778 G5RV antenna, which I purchased new at Winterfest in January 1997 for shortwave listening applications. I built a dipole for SWL use to replace the G5RV in February 2010.

My experience as a shortwave listener, AM and FM broadcast band DXer and TV DXer prepared me for the experiences I have had as an Amateur Radio operator. If anyone asked me who my influences were for Amateur Radio, I would have to credit two people. One is Vern Jackson (WAØRCR) of Wentzville, MO. When he was living in Florissant, he ran the Gateway 160 Meter Net in AM mode from a shack in back of his mother's house. I could hear his station on the image frequency of 950 kHz. After I got the Realistic DX-200 in October 1982, I could also hear Vern on his regular frequency of 1860 kHz. The signal became somewhat weaker after he moved the station to Wentzville. My other influence is on my mother's side of the family. When I was younger, I would occasionally go with my family to the Springfield/Branson area. A second cousin on my mother's side, Jim Marshall (WAØQEV), had an excellent setup when he was living in Rogersville, MO. He even got me hooked on Ctizens' Band radio (his handle was Alligator Man...I was Alligator Boy at first, but after experimenting with several others, I settled on Alligator Junior) back in the 1970s while visiting him in Hollister (near Branson). On a trip to Red Top Mountain State Park, GA in the spring of 1992, I witnessed him operating a Heathkit HF rig with a mobile antenna and a small antenna tuner calling CQ on 75 meters. I've also talked to a few of my fellow DXers on the Amateur bands, such as FM DXer Fred Laun (K3ZO), FM/TV DXer Pat Dyer (WA5IYX), VHF/UHF DXer Peter Baskind (N4LI) and noted AM broadcast band DXer Wayne Heinen (NØPOH).

I'm very fortunate (and proud) to be part of a fraternity that includes country singer Ronnie Milsap, former Oakland Athletics player Joe Rudi (from the World Series champion teams in the early 1970s), rock guitarist Joe Walsh, and audio guru Bob Heil. A radio-related hobby is also a great way to keep a teenager out of did in my case. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

E-Layer Skip Propagation

This form of propagation of VHF signals is most common in the summer months, but can happen at any time of the year. This is where signals bounce off this particular layer of the atmosphere, and land up to 1,500 miles away on a single hop. This form of propagation is called E-layer skip, or what's more commonly known to the Amateur Radio and TV/FM DX communities as "E-skip".

From my location near St. Louis, I most commonly get FM signals via this mode from Florida and New England. When the U.S. broadcast television in analog format, I most commonly got areas to the west (such as the Rocky Mountain states), as well as the East Coast. There are times when I can also hear Canadian and Mexican FM signals. With more Canadian stations converting to digital, opportunities to log new Canadian stations are getting fewer. So, I've been monitoring the lowest open FM frequency for skip conditions (in my area, it's 88.5 MHz, since local KDHX 88.1 is blocking 88.3 with their wasteful "HD" service). With Mexico taking it's time with digital TV, it has made it possible for me to log TV stations from outside the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Since U.S. full-power TV stations converted to digital in 2009, I've been able to add two new countries to my TV DX logbook via double-hop E-skip (Venezuela and Nicaragua). I've noted only a few openings reaching as high as VHF television channel 7; the last opening above 108 MHz I noted was in 2004, when I logged KHB38 Atlantic City, NJ on 162.400 MHz.

It takes just as much (if not more) patience to get a video capture on an analog E-skip signal than on a digital TV signal via the same mode of propagation or even tropo. Recently, I noted openings into Canada and Mexico on analog TV. This video capture was noted on May 29, 2012 from CKND2 (VHF Channel 2) from Minnedosa, Manitoba, Canada. The station it relays, CKND in Winnipeg, has already converted to digital. Note the small "Global Winnipeg" ID in the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

The next afternoon, I was able to get this video capture from XEFB-TV (VHF Channel 2) from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. What gives this one away is the abbreviation "Mty." That abbreviation stands for Monterrey. This is from an infomercial.

The same afternoon, I got this video capture from XEFE-TV (VHF Channel 2) from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. This is across the river from Laredo, TX. The ID is clearly seen on this newscast.

With the conversion of U.S. television to digital, receiving the few VHF-low band DTV stations via E-skip is even more of a challenge. Very few can hold a signal for a long enough period of time to allow me to identify the station, forcing me to rely more often on the PSIP info on the digital channel. The only digital TV station received by E-layer skip that held its signal long enough to allow me to identify the station was WRGB (VHF Channel 6) Schenectady, NY. This was received in July 2009.

Receiving digital TV signals via E-skip is perhaps the most challenging part of TV DXing in the digital age. All of these video captures used a Hauppauge Win-TV-Go video card, which I installed in my computer in 2005 (since the Win-TV-D card for digital TV had been discontinued). A Zenith DTT-901 was used to receive the digital TV DX.

On the FM band, I have been recording more of my E-skip DX on a computer, especially since I added MP3 recording to my Magix Music Maker program. I have stored most of my FM DX on a Box account I added last year. I'm still using a cassette deck to record other FM DX. I don't own an "HD" receiver (and don't really care to own such a receiver, since I have Sirius-XM Satellite Radio), and being 20 miles from the nearest 100 kW FM stations, I can sometimes pull in DX over the digital sidebands of my locals.

My first experience with this type of propagation was in the summer of 1983. I had just added an Archer (Radio Shack) VU-110 to my setup. The antenna was pointed east and in the attic at my original QTH on Lamplight Lane; I pulled in WFSB (VHF Channel 3) Hartford, CT with their 11:00 p.m. newscast. What gave it away was the weather radar centered on the Hartford (CT)/Springfield (MA) area. Later, I was watching "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" on the same channel, and found a commercial mentioning Fayetteville; I thought I was pulling in KYTV in Springfield, MO (which is 91 miles, as the regional jet flies, from Fayetteville, AR). Imagine my surprise when the station IDed as WSTM Syracuse, NY! I would also get such diverse stations as KENW Portales, NM, WEDU Tampa, FL and KIDK Idaho Falls, ID on Channel 3 in the coming years. When I lived in Woodstock and Marietta, GA from 1988 to 1992, I also would get WFSB and WSTM on channel 3. In the Atlanta area, Channel 4 was an open channel. On E-skip, I would get such Channel 4 stations as KGBT-TV Harlingen, TX, KDUH Scottsbluff, NE and even WNBC-TV New York. The last E-skip opening I noted from Georgia, in June of 1992, was quite an experience. Bill Alisauskas in Douglasville tipped me that he was getting KGAN Channel 2 from Cedar Rapids, IA through local WSB-TV. Not only did I pull in KGAN that night, but also KFYR-TV on Channel 5 from Bismarck, ND through local WAGA. I did pull in KGAN one more time from my current QTH in 2008, through local KTVI.

On the FM side, I have had just as diverse of experience with E-skip. I started out with a pair of FM rabbit ears in 1983; the Archer (Radio Shack) Stereo Supreme. One E-skip opening into New England in 1985 gave me one memorable catch: WRDO-FM 92.3 Augusta, ME (with local WIL-FM off). I still have the QSL letter from that reception. I found the address only because the station had an AM affiliate on 1400 kHz. Today, that station is known as WMME (Moose). During the move from Woodstock to Marietta in the summer of 1991, I pulled in a station on 99.1 MHz with Colorado ads. On this frequency back then, I could count on either hearing Macon, GA or Huntsville, AL. The station turned out to be KUAD Windsor, CO. Even Chicago made it in via E-skip while I was in Georgia (WLIT 93.9...even with a local on 94.1). Since returning to Hazelwood in 1992 (it'll be 20 years on June 29), I've even been able to null out my locals to pull in E-skip. For example, I have been able to null out KDHX 88.1 to pull in WJIS Bradenton, FL (June 28, 1994) and KGNZ Abilene, TX (June 27, 1994). More recently, I was able to null out KPNT 105.7 to pull in CIGL Laval, PQ (July 29, 2009). One country I didn't log while I was in Georgia that I've logged in Missouri: Canada. The only other English-speaking country I logged from Georgia was Belize on 88.9 in 1991 (through semi-local WMBW Chattanooga, TN). My having taken one year of college level Spanish and one semester of college level French have helped me tremendously in identifying the Mexican and French Canadian stations.

I began operating on 6 Meters in 2006, after being a 2 meter operator exclusively since I was first licensed in 1992. So far, I've worked some 170 grid squares (2 degrees longitude by one degree latitude wide) on 6 Meters, mainly in single sideband. I've also worked several stations in AM mode, and one grid square each in FM and CW modes. I've worked the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Antigua, Puerto Rico, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic on 6 meters.

This is one of the most interesting forms of VHF signal propagation, in my honest opinion.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

States I've Logged via More than One Mode of Propagation

Of course, there's several different modes of propagation on FM, analog and digital TV. The types of propagation I have logged here have been tropospheric enhancement, E-layer skip (single and double hop), and meteor scatter. I've noted several states that I've pulled in stations via more than one mode of propagation. There are two markets I've pulled in stations via both tropospheric enhancement and E-layer skip: Pierre, SD (645 miles) and Buffalo, NY (665 miles).

Here are the states I've noted via two or more modes of propagation:

ALABAMA - Most stations via tropospheric enhancement, although WZEW 92.1 in Fairhope (a Mobile suburb) was noted via E-skip on July 28, 2009 at 1616 CDT (2116 UTC). All of the other Alabama FMs have been via tropo, concentrated on Huntsville, Florence/Muscle Shoals and Birmingham, with notable exceptions being WHHY 101.9 Montgomery on May 12, 2011 and WZBQ 94.1 Carrollton on July 28, 1998. On analog TV, it's all been tropospheric enhancement, primarily in Alabama north of a Tuscaloosa-Phenix City line, with the only exceptions being WHOA 32 (now WNCF) Montgomery on January 16, 1995 and WIIQ 41 Demopolis on November 11, 2000.

FLORIDA - The first tropo from Florida was noted on May 12, 2011 with the log of WKSM 99.5 Fort Walton Beach at 0015 CDT (0515 UTC). Also noted was NOAA Weather Radio station KEC86 on 162.400 MHz from Pensacola on May 11, 2011 at 2355 CDT (May 12 0455 UTC). 55 FM stations were noted via E-skip before pulling in WKSM via tropo. All analog TV loggings have been on E-skip propagation. Pensacola is another market I've noted via both tropo and E-skip (the other Pensacola station being an FM, WMEZ 94.1, logged on May 14, 1994.)

GEORGIA - I lived in this state from 1988 to 1992, and the one of only two I've received via three modes of propagation. The only meteor scatter log from the Empire State of the South is WSTR 94.1 in Smyrna (an Atlanta suburb), heard on November 16, 1998. The same station was heard again via tropospheric enhancement in the summer of 2005. All of the tropo on FM came from metro Atlanta, save for WTSH 107.1 in Rockmart (now licensed to nearby Aragon), which serves the Rome market. On TV, all tropo has been UHF and in analog, and all from metro Atlanta save for WLTZ 38 in Columbus, first logged in January 1995, along with GPTV stations WJSP-TV 28 in Warm Springs/Columbus (November 2000) and WCLP 18 Chatsworth/Dalton (July 2005). Even over-the-air TBS made it in (then WTBS 17) on November 12, 2006. All of the E-skip logged from Georgia has been on the Atlantic coast (from Savannah down to the Florida line). Only one Georgia analog TV station was noted via E-skip: WSAV 3 Savannah made several visits a year to my suburban St. Louis shack between 1993 and 2009.

LOUISIANA - I have logged one station via E-skip and tropo from the only state where their political subdivisions are called Parishes. That station is WLMG 101.9 New Orleans, logged via E-skip on July 5, 2000 and via tropo in the spring of 2003. The other FM stations in Louisiana have been logged via E-skip. Only one analog TV station was ever logged from the Sportsman's Paradise: KATC 3 Lafayette, noted on June 5, 2005 at 1153 CDT (1653 UTC).

MINNESOTA - All of the FM stations I've logged from the Land of 10,000 Lakes have been via tropo, save for KQDS 94.9 Duluth, logged via E-skip on June 8, 2008 at 1847 CDT (2347 UTC). All of the TV stations have been logged via tropo: KTTC 10 Rochester and three from Minneapolis on UHF. All analog TV stations were logged on August 30, 2000.

NEBRASKA - All but one analog TV station from the Cornhusker State have been logged via tropo, along with all 21 FM stations logged. The only station logged from Nebraska via E-skip was KDUH 4 Scottsbluff, noted on June 5, 2006 at 2000 CDT (June 6 0100 UTC), floating under local KMOV.

NEW YORK - I've logged my fair share of E-skip from the Empire State, but I've also noted one FM and two analog UHF TV stations from Buffalo via tropo. The tropo catches from Buffalo are: WNED-TV 17 on August 23, 1995 at 2145 CDT (August 24 0245 UTC), WUTV 29 on August 16, 1999 at 2022 CDT (August 17 0122 UTC) and WDCX 99.5 on the same night at 2255 CDT (0355 UTC). Via E-skip, the Buffalo stations I've logged were WBUF 92.9 on May 25, 2003 at 1651 CDT (2151 UTC), WGRZ 2 on June 1, 2009 at 1930 CDT (June 2 0030 UTC) and WIVB 4 on the same night at 1931 CDT (0031 UTC), both floating under locals KTVI and KMOV. This state was also where I pulled in my second digital TV station via E-skip: WRGB 6 Schenectady on July 29, 2009 at 1628 CDT (2128 UTC).

NORTH CAROLINA - This is the other state I've logged via three different modes of propagation. Via meteor scatter, I noted WZKB 94.3 Wallace on November 16, 1998 at 2315 CST (November 17 0515 UTC). Via tropo, I noted WMIT 106.9 Black Mountain (Asheville) on June 29, 2011 at 2320 CDT (June 30 0420 UTC). All of the analog TV stations I received have been via E-skip. I have noted WUND 2 from two cities of license: from Columbia on July 6, 1999 and Edenton on June 12, 2009 (the latter after KTVI switched off its analog transmitter at 0000 CDT/0500 UTC). Three others were noted on June 12, 2009 via E-skip: WFMY 2 Greensboro, WBTV 3 Charlotte and WUNC-TV 4 Chapel Hill (Raleigh/Durham).

PENNSYLVANIA - All of the FM stations I've heard from the Keystone State has been via E-skip, and all but one from Philadelphia. The only non-Philly FM noted from this location has been WJTL 90.3 Lancaster on July 7, 2009 at 1725 CDT (2225 UTC). All VHF analog TV stations have been noted via E-skip: two from Philadelphia (KYW-TV 3 and WPVI 6) and one from the State College area (WPSX 3, now WPSU). Via tropo, both Pennsylvania stations have been on UHF analog TV. WPGH 53 Pittsburgh was noted on August 24, 1995 at 0007 CDT (0507 UTC) through WWHO in Ohio. WQLN-TV 54 Erie was noted on August 16, 1999 at 2019 CDT (August 17 0119 UTC) in a pledge break. I would visit Erie four times between August 2008 and April 2010; it's a nice town, although the locals sometimes love to joke about it.

SOUTH DAKOTA - Pierre has been another market I've logged via both tropo and E-skip. Via tropo, I logged KTSD 10 on July 19, 2003 at 0800 CDT (1300 UTC). Via E-skip, I logged KGFX-FM 92.7 on June 18, 2005 at 1121 CDT (1621 UTC). One analog TV station has been noted via two modes of propagation. KPLO 6 Reliance (Pierre) was noted on June 21, 2001 at 1432 CDT (1932 UTC) via E-skip, and on the morning of July 19, 2003 via tropo. Most of the E-skip logs on FM have been from the Rapid City area, while most of the tropo logs on FM have been from the eastern part of the state. Both KOTA-TV and KOTA-DT have been noted at this location: KOTA-TV 3 was first noted on June 22, 1999 at 1850 CDT (2350 UTC), while KOTA-DT 2 decoded its PSIP on the third sub-channel on June 29, 2010 at 1200 CDT (1700 UTC). On the TV side via tropo, it's also been east of Pierre, mostly from Sioux Falls.

UTAH - This is the only state where tropo was NOT noted as the second mode of propagation. It's been E-skip and meteor scatter to Mormon Country. The only meteor scatter I noted from Utah was KURR 99.5 Bountiful, noted on November 18, 2000 at 0136 CST (0736 UTC). The station was also noted via E-skip the following summer. All but four FM stations logged have been from the Salt Lake City region.

VIRGINIA - Yes, I've also logged the birth state of eight U.S. Presidents (from George Washington to Woodrow Wilson) via two modes of propagation. All 17 FM stations logged have been via E-skip, mainly from the Norfolk/Virginia Beach, Richmond/Petersburg markets and the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. On the analog TV side, I've logged my E-skip on VHF channels 3 and 6. WTKR 3 Norfolk and WTVR-TV 6 Richmond were both noted on the evening of July 6, 1999, while WHSV 3 Harrisonburg was noted on the afternoon of June 10, 2006. Via tropo, both stations noted have been UHF TV stations. WLFG 68 Grundy was noted on August 25, 2003 at 2247 CDT (August 26 0347); WSBN 47 Norton was noted on August 3, 2008 at 2115 CDT (August 4 0215 UTC).

WISCONSIN - All of the FM stations logged from America's Dairyland have been via tropo; some parts of the state are less than 300 miles (as the crow flies) from my suburban St. Louis QTH. 17 analog TV stations logged have been via tropo, mainly from Milwaukee and Madison. One analog TV station was seen via E-skip. That station was KBJR 6 in Superior, noted on June 8, 2008 at 1924 CDT (June 9 0024 UTC).

In addition to the states above, I've logged one Canadian province via tropo and E-skip:

ONTARIO - The first analog TV stations from Ontario were pulled in on the tropo opening on December 26-27, 1994. CKCO3 42 Sarnia was the first one noted, on December 26, 1994 at 1949 CST (December 27 0149 UTC). That was followed by five more on December 27, 1994 between 0100 and 0430 CST (0700-1030 UTC): CICO18 18 London, CIII29 29 Sarnia, CICO32 32 Windsor, CICA 19 Toronto and CICO59 59 Chatham. The first E-skip from Ontario wasn't noted until May 30, 1997, when I noted CKVR 3 Barrie at 1732 CDT (2232 UTC). On FM, all my logs have been via E-skip, save for CJBC-FM 90.3 Toronto on May 29, 2000 at 2140 CDT (May 30 0240 UTC). Most of the E-skip logs on TV came after locals KTVI, KMOV and KSDK shut off their analog transmitters on June 12, 2009.

First E-Skip of the 2012 Season

Over the weekend of May 5-6, I noted my first E-skip of the 2012 season. After a Valentine's Day tropo opening into southwest Missouri and a March opening into Illinois and Iowa, I thought I was due for some E-skip.

May 5 was, of course, Cinco de Mayo. While it provides people on this side of the border an excuse to drink plenty of Cuervo Gold or Corona beer (beer is called "cerveza" in Spanish), it has more of a historical meaning in Mexico, because it celebrates a Mexican military victory over France in 1862.

The E-skip began at 4:00 p.m. local time (2100 UTC), when I pulled in wrestling with Spanish commentary on VHF Channel 2 in analog. The network ID was Azteca 7 (Azteca Siete); checking Fred Cantu's Mexican station list, this is XHTAU in Tampico, Tamaulipas. I also noted another station on VHF Channel 4 in analog, carrying military ceremonies to mark the Mexican victory over France 150 years ago, and to honor those who gave their lives defending Mexico from the French. This was around 4:30 p.m. local time (2130 UTC). The opening reached into the lower part of the FM broadcast band. At 4:05 p.m. local time (2105 UTC), XHMU Tampico, Tamaulipas was heard on 90.1 MHz with a "La Poderosa 90.1" ID, local spots and Ranchera music in Spanish. It's nice to hear someone other than Reynosa or Chihuahua on 90.1 MHz.

On May 6, the E-skip turned to the six meter (50-54 MHz) Amateur Radio band. Over the past several days, I've made it a habit to monitor 50.125 MHz to hear DX as it comes through. On May 5, I heard WD4AB from the Miami, FL area, which I had worked previously. On May 6, I worked my first E-skip of the summer, when I worked N7AMA from the Phoenix, AZ area. When working Amateur Radio stations on the VHF and UHF bands, an operator has to announce the grid square he or she is transmitting from. In this case, my grid square is EM48. Miami is in grid EL95, while Phoenix is in DM33. This map is from an Amateur Radio-related Web site.

So far, besides the U.S., Canada and Mexico, I've also worked the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Anguilla, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic on six meters, and have all but Cuba confirmed.

The same evening, I officially logged WMSH 90.3 Sparta, IL (55 miles via ground wave) for my 1,150th FM station. I expect to pull in my 1,200th FM station from my present location in 2012. I have a long way to go for my FM totals to catch up with my AM total of 1,312. My analog TV totals still stands at 556, along with 143 digital TV stations and 101 NOAA Weather Radio stations.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

TV DXing in the Digital Age

In the 29 years I've been seriously DXing television, no adjustment has been as major as the transition here in the United States from analog to digital television three years ago. Many of us remember the "nightlight" operations by several TV stations of their analog signals broadcasting public service announcements on the conversion to digital for one month. In my home state, the stations that did this included KSDK 5 St. Louis, KRCG 13 Jefferson City, KYTV 3 Springfield and KMBC 9 Kansas City. Of course, KSDK now operates on UHF Channel 35, KYTV on UHF Channel 44 and KMBC on UHF Channel 29. KRCG remained on VHF, operating on Channel 12. Via E-skip, I pulled in such operations from WGBH Boston, WPBT Miami and KPRC-TV Houston (both on VHF Channel 2), as well as the TV stations run by the University of North Carolina.

It was well worth the money I paid for my first digital TV tuner, a Digital Stream HD3150. I bought it in 2005. I used this for DX for the first three years of my DXing digital TV signals. The tuner is now part of my entertainment system, but is still hooked to the same Radio Shack VU-210XR that my pair of Zenith DTT-901 tuners are hooked to. Some of my early DTV DX was received on the HD3150. My best log came in November 2006, when I pulled in WJHL Johnson City, TN operating in digital on UHF Channel 58. They're now in digital on VHF Channel 11. This was how their main channel came through.

Digital TV also allows for the capacity to transmit multiple channels on a 600 kHz chunk of spectrum that an analog television signal occupied. The most sub-channels I've seen on one station has been five, for the stations owned and operated by Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). Many stations use one channel for a full-time weather channel. On that same night, I pulled in WJHL's weather channel.

One thing that doesn't change, however, is E-layer skip propagation. A handful of digital TV stations in the U.S. operate on VHF Channels 2 through 6. The first E-skip signal that was steady enough to do a video capture of is WRGB Schenectady, NY, which operates in digital on VHF Channel 6. This was pulled in after the completion of the digital transition in 2009.

VHF low-band DTV signals can also be received by tropospheric enhancement. This is from the summer of 2011, pulling in WHBF on VHF Channel 4 from Rock Island, IL. This is the closest VHF-low band digital TV station, at 185 miles.

Many of the VHF digital TV stations operate on Channels 7 to 13. This is my closest VHF High band DTV station, WCIX in Springfield, IL on VHF Channel 13.

My ability to video capture my DX is greatly enhanced with a video card on my computer. In 2004, I bought a Hauppauge Win-TV-Go video card. It's a vital piece of equipment for any DX shack. It does better with digital signals than analog signals. Sometimes, an analog signal can hold long enough to get a video capture. Some countries are still broadcasting in analog, such as Mexico. This one is XHAE on VHF Channel 5 from Saltillo, Coahuila. You can barely read the "Televisa Saltillo" ID in the top left hand corner of the screen. This was received in the summer of 2011.

TV DXing, as far as I've found, hasn't been that much different in the digital age than it was during the analog era. It's just that you need more patience to pull in DX. Give it a try, regardless of whether you have a DTV tuner hooked to an analog TV set, or a new HDTV set. You would need a top-of-the-line antenna to receive DX, though.