Wednesday, June 24, 2020

From Winter MW DX To Summer FM DX

I have lived, and DX-ed, under the assumption that FM DX-ing is a useless effort at my northerly location. However, two years ago following advice from fellow DX-ers I did a "test season" with my relatively new SDRPlay RSP1A, and a very old, 3-element FM antenna placed in the attic. While I only caught one proper Es opening, the result was staggering, with well over 200 stations logged in one afternoon/evening.

Last year I really didn't try much, and I think conditions in general were poor as well. For this season though, I had bought 3 RSPdx from SDRPlay, and an 8-element FM antenna from InnovAntennas. I had sold off my RFSpace CloudIQs and Airspy HF+ so I had some cash ready.

The FM antenna proved an immediate success. It was mounted outdoor on a 6-metre, Ø40 mm aluminium tube/mast and pointed in a southerly direction.

InnovAntennas 8-element FM antenna

I have set up the three RSPdx with three PCs, external 2.5", 4-GB hard drives and let them sample 8 MHz each, to cover the entire FM band. The connection from the antenna to the SDRs is via a 1:5 splitter/preamp from Cross Country Wireless. I monitor and record with HDSDR v. 2.80 since it's quite gentle on CPU and RAM consumption. Playback is done with SDR Console with its excellent RDS decoder.

First Es opening of the season happened on May 30. I will update the FM logs on a monthly basis, and the complete log for May is a good point to start. The most surprising bit for me was Faroe Islands. Not that it was heard, but 8 stations! Some with very low power.

If anyone want more frequent updates, the hangout place for FM DX-ers, especially in Europe, is FMList.org.

It is true though, that in the south, Es and Tropo conditions are much more common. And what's Tropo DX, or even local QRM for some, is Es DX for me. However, I think that northerly locations may have benefits of their own. Such as being able to hear regions that are difficult or maybe impossible to hear for DX-ers in the south. I have ordered another FM antenna from InnovAntennas, and I have some thoughts about where to aim it.

June loggings are due in a week. It will be a long list!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Extending The Arctic MW DX Season Into The Midnight Sun

May 15. At around 18:30 UTC, ABC Newsradio, Busselton WA 1152, with a readable signal. Distance: 13,396 km. On the following night, the sun did not set. Now, how is that for daytime reception?

Our beverages shouldn't even be up at this time of year. The thing is, I need to adjust antenna deployment to reindeer migration. Sounds exotic, doesn't it. Well, there is a logic behind this. The reindeer have their summer pastures at the coast. As autumn comes, they migrate to the inland winter pastures. Around August 25 or so, the area is "clear" for antenna deployment. For obvious reasons, I don't want the animals to have their antlers entangled in our wires. It's not good for the wires, and certainly not for the reindeer. One year, a lonely left-behinder I wasn't aware of got trapped in the 310 beverage wire. I managed to free the animal, though it was a bit scary since it was a full-grown oxen with impressive antlers!

When April arrives, the season is more or less over, and the beverages are reeled in, leaving the area safe for the original "inhabitants" to enter. However, the 80-degrees beverage was left standing this year, because of excessive snow levels on the path. Not much trouble for the reindeer though, they can jump over the visible parts of the wire.

This year, we started to monitor the beverage more closely than previous years since we heard good signals from Australia late in April So, for how long? As it turned out, for a very long time.

There is no sunset from May 16 onwards, and I was quite surprised to hear Adelaide-891 and Wagin (WA) 1296 in the end of April, when midnight was only civil twilight. Adelaide, and even other stations like 5AU on 1242, were heard on May 2. And the following days, until May 15 at least, stations from Western Australia were heard. And maybe we could have heard them even longer if conditioins were right. How could this be?

There are two reasons. First, and definitely most important: Mainland Asia, and especially China, are significantly attenuated at this time of the year. So, even a very weak signal can be copied. Secondly, there is greyline propagation from Australia almost all the way. Only the last few hundred km do the signal propagate through daylight, and then with the sun at a very low azimuth. And daylight reception of distant MW stations is nothing new in the Arctic. It is quite common to log North American stations in bright sunshine during autumn and spring here.

ABC Adelaide 891 at 18:30 UTC on May 5.
Interestingly, the signal from Adelaide crosses China with all their power houses which are not heard at all. As daytime increases, only the westernmost stations in Australia are audible. Such as 1152, 1269 and 1296.

In all fairness, this is not exciting DX, in that one could hope to hear new stations. Still, for us, it's a new barrier being broken. MW DX from 13,000+ km away, while in 24-hour daylight!


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Post-Season Antenna Works

Well, "post-season" is a bit premature as today APR-12 I heard several North American stations on the 310 beverage with good signal levels; CJWI-1410, CHKT-1430, WMBD-1470, WGVU-1480, WLAC-1510 etc. And we hope that the two Asia beverages will still provide a week with good signals from Australia. But the most productive beverage, the dual, staggered 340 beverage, was taken down yesterday. After a six-week pause, both Covid-19 and weather related, I finally found a weather window to visit my Kongsfjord site on APR-11. A snow-packed entrance awaited me.

Snow shovel strategically placed outdoor!
March and April (so far) have been challenging months this year, weather-wise. Lots of snowfall, and lots of wind that packs the snow in certain areas and cleans the terrain in others. As luck would have it, the starting point of the easternmost wire is in the "packed" area. Though 150 cm high, the support was covered by another 75 cm of snow. It took quite a bit of shoveling, and not least find the correct spot to shovel! The end points were also covered - in ice! The rest of the wire was above the snow, and in excellent condition. So, after a 1h 45min exercise, 2 x 350 metres of wire had been reeled in.
340 starting point
I think next year I will attach a fiberglass mast to the pole so at least I know where to begin.

The other beverages were up and in good shape. But the 310 beverage starting point is buried in even more snow. It will likely come down the coming weekend, along with the 50 beverage. Happy days...

Next, I connected the standard KiwiSDR antennas to KongSDR and ArcticSDR. The 70-metre longwire and the NCi Megadipol were connected, and an outdoor connector failure for the Megadipol was repaired. The Kiwis are now back to their excellent SW reception. The Megadipol on ArcticSDR is superior for higher SW reception (12 MHz and up). KongSDR is a good alternative for lower SW and MW reception. DRM reception has been enabled. Kiwi users please observe that the Stats tab now has sunrise and sunset times available. Times of course UTC.

Sunrise and sunset times, thanks to Jari Perkiömäki.

To end this blogpost, the photo below was taken upon departure at 16 local. The clouds had finally given way to a very bright sunshine. The 100-km return trip was a breeze.


Sunday, April 05, 2020

A Brief Summary of The 2019-2020 Season

In the early days of April, the MW season on 71 North is soon coming to an end. The days are already 15 hours long, and northern signal paths are becoming increasingly attenuated. So, maybe time for a little round-up!

On a personal level for the KONG crew, the season started in the worst possible way with the loss of a great friend and excellent DX-er, TJ Bråtveit. TJ was a part of the KONG crew for many years, and will always be missed. The remaining three of us, me, OJ Sagdahl and Ole Forr, will keep up the tradition, which includes two annual gettogethers at Smøla island, and two, including the main KONG DX-pedition, in Kongsfjord.

The Kongsfjord antenna line-up was similar to previous years; four beverage antennas. The dual, staggered beverage to the North American west coast proved exceptionally efficient this season, surely a result of feedline and grounding replacements. Throughout the season there was a steady flow of new California loggings - partly due to conditions but surely also due to "cheating" with daytime power. Our temporary, 1000-metre remote setup at Mount Loran also logged lots of nice stuff for us. It was probably the last autumn we were allowed to use that site. We'll see what to do the coming autumn. "We have a plan"!

One of the new logs this season.

The Pacific DX was.... I wouldn't call it disappointing, but... But yes it was. There were some interesting openings, especially towards Western Australia, but I don't think we ever spotted a truly great opening. Some new stations from Australia and New Zealand were logged though. Personally I got my first Tasmania station, but on x-band so not "really".

The three of us have our own PCs and SDRs running in Kongsfjord and Smøla, and activity levels between us vary quite a bit.  I am certainly the lazy bugger of the team but I did hear a few great stations myself, or with the help from the other two, which can be found in the logbook below. Most common stations omitted. Speaking of which: DX-ers have always shared loggings. Nowadays, the methods of sharing vary a lot more than in the days of paper-based publications. Things have become much more fragmented. My own logs are found in the HCDX Log and MWList.org. I am surprised to see though that many DX-ers these days never publish their logs anywhere - but are more than happy to publish their QSLs. I am somewhat at loss to the logic behind this.

Click here for Bjarne's log.

Weather this winter has been very challenging, much more so than usual. Windy, snowy, stormy. And no sign of spring as I write. Apart from one short outage, the new fiber connection has worked superbly though, even (although with reduced capacity) during a fiber breakage out at sea. Much better than the old 4G connection. Despite the dreadful weather, only one short power outage was noted. Thanks to clever internal power management, all equipment came up again except two KiwiSDRs which needed some extra help.

The beverage antennas will likely be dismantled during the Easter holiday, as the reindeer migration to summer pastures is underway.  I bought an 8-element FM antenna from InnovAntennas recently, and hopefully this summer too will see a few Es-openings. They are exceptionally few on this latitude, but intense! Three SDRPlay RSPdx should provide enough FM coverage.

For MW, the Perseus SDR continues to be our receiver of choice. There are two reasons: 1) The Jaguar software is developed especially for the Perseus. The integration is virtually seamless and Jaguar provides a massive improvement in efficiency over any other software for dedicated MW DX-ers. 2) The Perseus is still in many ways a benchmark SDR. You will find other SDRs with similar or even better specifications (such as the Winradio G33DDC). However, replacing the Perseus and porting Jaguar to a new platform would be a massive cost for many DX-ers. Still, what the future brings nobody knows.

And in late August, another KONG season starts again!

Monday, January 27, 2020

New QSL: Radio Universidad Nacional del Sur, Bahia Blanca, BA 1240

Quite surprisingly, this station was heard off the back lobe of my Asia/Pacific beverage just after I had erected it in late August last year. It took a while to receive a response, but this evening one of the journalists at the station contacted me via Facebook and confirmed my reception. It turned out he has a lot of interest in our hobby since his father is a radio amateur and he used to listen to shortwave radio when he was a kid.

I introduced him to the wonderful world of KiwiSDRs so who knows, maybe we have another DX-er from Argentina!

Bahía Blanca is located in the southern part of Provincia de Buenos Aires, a city of 300.000 inhabitants 14,000 km away from my radios.


Saturday, January 18, 2020

Some Reflections on The New Fad – YouTube SDR Comparisons

It looks like everyone wants to be on YouTube these days. Nowadays it’s being used to compare SDRs, and videos are published on SDR related Facebook groups. I’m doubtful if any of what I see really helps the reader/viewer to choose the right SDR. And most often they are using signal levels I would call “armchair listening”.

Worse yet, there is often little or no attempt to describe how they set up the “test”. Are all parameters identical or are they comparing apples and oranges? And very often there are no comments from the authors themselves. One would at least expect a conclusion: Is one better than the other? I suspect the reason is that usually, there is no audible difference.

I have made loads of A-B audio comparisons for my own use, and two things are certain: 
1. Results will vary. There are so many variables at play. SDR A can be better than SDR B on frequency X, but worse on frequency Y. 
2. Audio is subjective. It’s because ears are different and the decoding brains are different. If you ask 10 people which is better, A or B, they will split. And one tends to favour the audio flavour from the SDR software one uses the most. My opinion is that Jaguar for Perseus in most (but not all) cases has better readability than SDRUno, HDSDR and SDR Console. But a long-time SDRUno user may  not agree. And when DX signals are 100 % readable it really doesn’t matter which software you use, because what the DX-er is after is the ID. It may be different for a program listener (aka SWL).

If one really wants to try to measure the difference between SDRs, why not set up a test using digital modes, like DRM, WSPR or FT-8? Then you would at least have objective criteria to judge from.

I am sure they are having great fun when they set up these tests and do so with good intentions. Alas, they bring nothing new into the equation. Let the lab tests rule.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The SDRPlay RSPdx: Usable for MW DX-ing?

I have had the opportunity to play with the new RSPdx from SDRPlay for a few weeks now. It seems to have been well received among SDRPlay customers. They have introduced "HDR" mode, a specially designed mode for operations below 2 MHz. So, how does it perform? I have tested it with weak signals in the Arctic, and with high signal levels further south. My impressions can be read here.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

QSL: SBS PopDesi, Launceston TAS 1611

When I heard Indian pop music on 1611 last September I really didn't know what to believe. The announcement "This is SBS Pop Desi" also let me bewildered, but at least I understood that it was very likely an Australian narrowband station. There was no reference to any MW frequency on their home page. And knowing how confusing and changing (and apparently poorly regulated) the Australian x-band is, I decided to let it rest.

Until a few weeks ago when I saw information that SBS PopDesi was transmitting over one of the former Rete Italia stations in Tasmania. As it were, the station was listed both in MWList and Asiawaves.net as using the Launceston transmitter. The other TAS stations from Rete Italia on 1611, Hobart and Devonport, were closed. Since I was lacking Tasmania in my Aussie log and QSL listing, I decided to send off a report to the station. After a few days, I received a confirmation via Facebook.



"The Outback" is a term defining the remote interior of Australia, and quite possibly one might associate the term with being lax in regulation, laid-back and easy to get lost. I'd call the x-band, or narrowband, the Outback of Australian radio. Stations are apparently changing hands, changing names, closing and opening at a rapid pace. Stations have several transmitters on each frequency (so, which one did you hear?). And the transmitters are offset to their nominal frequencies to an extent I'd assume no in-band station would ever be allowed to be. The band seems to live a life on its own. So, I have more or less given up that segment of the MW band.

But come on! It's Tasmania! A new state for me! And 400 watts travelling 15318 km isn't bad.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

QSL: CFBV Smithers BC 870 - The Moose

Friday the 13th was my lucky radio day, when 1000-watt CFBV had a stable, although weak, signal for a few hours. A decent "The Moose" liner was heard and recorded. The same morning, CFLD Burns Lake 760 was heard with the same programming, though a bit more noised-down.

A friendly response with the request to test my online SDRs came today.

CFLD and CFBV is kind of a special couple for me, and the reason I sent off a report. In 1985, I heard CFLD, then on 1400. As today, they were running together with CFBV, then on 1230, as "BV-LD Radio". I got a QSL from CFLD at the time. So, with today's response I have them both. Thanks Ole Forr for v/s info.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

QSL: Voice of Maldives / Dhivehiraajjeyge adu, Thilafushi 1449

This station was not quite uncommon in the beginning of the century. I heard it a few times at their sign-on which I believe was at 00:25Z. The past couple of years however, they haven't had a MW service for their total area of 90,000 km². Thanks to funding from Japan, a 25-kW transmitter was recently put in service from the island of Thilafushi.

I noted the news about the new transmitter, so I decided to try to catch it. Last night at 01:00 with the 80-degrees beverage I didn't need more than one try. Although interference from BBC and Saudi Arabia, the National Anthem  came out very well, together with a rather weak announcement. The distance is 8031 km.

A Facebook message with a recording of the station ended up with a long chat with one of the producers at the station. Part of the antenna mast is seen below. Thilafushi, 7 km from Male is an artificial island built on coral reefs to dump municipal waste.  Thilafushi is rapidly developing as an industrial island and a new location for warehouses.




















(Sources: MediumWave.Info, Sarath Weerakoon, Raazy Ali)