Friday, August 7, 2015

2015: The E-Skip Season That Almost Wasn't

This year's E-skip season almost didn't happen. The few E-skip openings I had in May didn't get above the 50 MHz (6 Meter) Amateur Radio band. Only one reached low-band VHF analog TV: that was on May 8 to Ciudad Juarez, noting XEPM-TV Channel 2 with it's "Tu Canal" slogan at 2027 CDT (0127 UTC). It's interesting to note that 2015 marks the last E-skip season with Mexico in analog format, as they are expected to go all-digital at the end of the year. The rest of the month was pretty much a dud; so much so that I did much of my DXing on the AM broadcast band. I compensated for the lack of E-skip by adding KCOL 600 Wellington, CO on May 2, KCKN 1020 Roswell, NM and WIBQ 1230 Terre Haute, IN on May 21, KFIZ 1450 Fond du Lac, WI on May 25, ending the month with KIIK 1270 Waynesville, MO for a call letter change (ex-KOZQ) on May 31.

By the middle of June, I was about ready to throw in the towel on the E-skip season. The opening on June 13 only reached Channel 2, this time to Monterrey (XEFB-TV). On June 17, everything broke loose with an opening that reached 162.400 MHz to Texas. On digital TV, I logged my first low-power digital television station on low-band VHF and via E-skip when I logged KXDA-LD 5 Durant, OK at 1120 CDT (1620 UTC). At 470 miles, it's the shortest E-skip reception at my Hazelwood, MO monitoring station since I started my digital TV logbook in September 2005. 

I relogged XHPN 3 Piedras Negras, Coahuila...possibly for the last time before the digital transition in Mexico is completed. A new analog TV station was logged when XHCJ 4 Sabinas, Coahuila was logged with programming from the Azteca 13 (Trece) network at 1141 CDT (1641 UTC). 

On the FM side, I added two new Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex stations to my logbook. At 1115 CDT (1615 UTC), KLIF-FM 93.3 Haltom City, TX was noted with Dallas/Fort Worth ads, "Hot 93-3" ID and a Hip-Hop format. AM broadcast band DXers will recognize the call on 570 kHz in Dallas. The only one I got a decent recording of was KTCK-FM 96.7 Flower Mound, TX at 1132 CDT (1632 UTC) with local ads, "Sports Radio 1310 AM and 96.7 FM, The Ticket" ID and sports talk. KTCK-FM is the 50th FM station to be logged from the Lone Star State. The only other new station added to the log was KKBQ 92.9 Pasadena, TX with Houston area ads through KKID and KROM at 1242 CDT (1742 UTC). I also had re-logs of KMTH 98.7 Maljamar, NM, KTCL 93.3 Wheat Ridge, CO and KATC 95.1 Colorado Springs, CO (with its new slogan, "Nash FM"). On the NOAA Weather Radio bands, the Lone Star State became the 23rd state logged in the band between 162.400 and 162.550 MHz. WXJ98 162.400 Del Rio, TX was noted at 1127 CDT (1627 UTC) with weather conditions for southern Texas. WXK52 162.400 Midland, TX was noted at 1204 CDT (1704 UTC) with the severe weather outlook and conditions for southwestern Texas and southeastern New Mexico.

The next day, the E-skip activity shifted toward New England and upstate New York. At 1121 CDT (1621 UTC), WRGB 6 Schenectady, NY was noted with a CBS News Special Report on channel 6.1, while This TV was noted on 6.2. It's the third time I've pulled in WRGB since the digital conversion was completed. Signals on channels 2 and 3 lit up the signal meter on the digital tuner, but couldn't decode, not even with PSIP information. The only other station that decoded was WACP 4 Atlantic City, NJ. While the time said 10:11 a.m., it was really logged at 1138 CDT (1638 UTC). Here's a video capture of WACP:

This opening would only reach 102.1 MHz. Among the re-logs were WBOS 92.9 Brookline, MA, WOKQ 97.5 Dover, NH (only the second time noted), WAMC-FM 90.3 Albany, NY, WAIO 95.1 Honeoye Falls, NY (last logged as WFXF), and WSLP 93.3 Saranac Lake, NY. The new stations logged were: WNTK 99.7 New London, NH with Rush Limbaugh, taking out WXAJ (Springfield, IL's "Kiss FM", licensed to Hillsboro) at 1212 CDT (1712 UTC). WNTQ 93.1 Syracuse, NY was noted at 1221 CDT (1721 UTC) with "93-Q" ID, local ads and a Contemporary Hit Radio format. WZUN 102.1 Phoenix, NY (Syracuse market) was noted at 1226 CDT (1726 UTC) with local ads and a Classic Rock format, mixing with WIBV (Mount Vernon, IL). WZUN is the 20th FM station to be logged from the Empire State. WCIZ 93.3 Watertown, NY took out WSLP at 1239 CDT (1739 UTC) with an Adult Contemporary format, "Z-93" ID and the community calendar.

The opening on June 20 only reached 93 MHz to Florida and Cuba. WEOW 92.7 Key West, FL was the only FM re-log, along with Channel 2 from Havana and Channels 3 and 5 from Santa Clara. The only non-Cuban signal noted on analog TV was XEPM-TV 2 from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. All of these re-logs were between 1100 and 1200 CDT (1600-1700 UTC). Tropospheric enhancement masked the maximum usable frequency; FM signals from northern Illinois and northern Indiana took over by 1230 CDT (1730 UTC).

The opening on June 23 would only reach Channel 5 to northern Mexico, with only XEPM-TV 2 and XEJ-TV 5 from Ciudad Juarez making it in. E-skip would make its last stand for 2015 on June 29, adding WERO 93.3 Washington, NC at 2011 CDT (June 30 0111 UTC) with a "Bob 93-3" ID, local ads and a Contemporary Hit Radio format, briefly taking out WTRH and WPBG. After that, it would be all tropo, which will be saved for another blog entry.

There have been two total duds of E-skip seasons since I returned to Hazelwood, MO 23 summers ago: 2002 (only three FM and four analog TV stations added to the logbook, all but K59GP 59 St. Charles, MO via tropo) and 1995 (with only one analog TV station, CBFT 2 Montreal, QC added via E-skip; all the rest of the new FM and TV stations logged that year were via tropo). I hope 2016 will be a better E-skip season than thing I will be curious to know is how many Mexican TV stations will be operating in digital on the low bands.