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.