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.