Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ending A Spectacular September

While it is true that conditions in September have been monitored in an unprecedented scale in Kongsfjord this year, I think it is also safe to say that the conditions have been unprecedented in stability and quality. Below is the overnight waterfall from the 340 beverage on Sept 28th:

Both my Perseus/Jaguars were running in continous mode overnight. Logs from this week include CFOS Owen Sound ON 560, WCHU Ithaca NY 870, WIBX Utica NY 950, KTOQ Rapid City SD 1340, KFIV Modesto CA 1360, KJYE Delta CO 1400, WKNW Sault St. Marie MI 1400, KBMW Breckenridge MN 1450, WTKI Huntsville AL 1450 and KKAQ Thief River Falls MN 1460 to name some of the better ones.

While conditions were good and focused on the 28th, they were anything but focused on the 29th, so nothing new was heard. Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Cuba, US/Can east coast mixing with mid-west and even the odd west coast station makes it hard to find anything of interest.

However, weaker signals are audible several hours after sunrise now, after we passed equinox.

Very little of interest from Asia and the Pacific this weekend. Less than two weeks until the KONG23 DX-pedition starts.

UPDATE September 30th:
And this is how the Jaguar waterfall looks after a "solar fart", in this case the start of a proton event:

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Yes, It's That Time Of The Year...

...when I fire up the good old R-390A again. And it never lets me down. This one was restored to perfection with the invaluable help from Dallas Lankford, to better than specified performance (sensitivity is -115 dBm on AM, 6 kHz bandwidth,400 Hz tone and 30 % modulation). The stock filters were replaced with filters more suitable for MW DX, and the last modification involved an AM Synchronous Detector. Once the set is sufficiently warm, it's rock stable.
R-390A - still glowing

Dallas also helped make a complete inventory of valves, lamps and other parts that could come in handy during the next 50 years or so.

This R-390A is a relatively new one, manufactured in 1967. Its pre-Mjelde history is rather obscure, but there is reason to believe that it was one of the workhorses at a Norwegian Army Sigint facility. They were supposed to be demolished after completing service, but story has it that some operators who were also radio amateurs managed to save some of them. I bought it from a radio amateur in 2004.

The R-390A hasn't been among my most important DX receivers, however in many ways it's still a reference receiver for todays' SDRs. Although it can't compete with the versatility of SDRs, on single frequency monitoring it is still number one.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Autumn Equinox (well, almost) DX Weekend

With the clear, dry and relatively warm weather continuing well into autumn, it was time for another weekend at the KONG site. The record-breaking summer of 1960 is no longer a benchmark, and for decades to come we will tell our children and grandchildren about the fabulous summer of 2013. Unless of course this is the new average, courtesy of global warming.

The KONG DX Headquarter
Solar activity was quite a bit higher than last weekend, and conditions varied a lot. Friday afternoon towards Asia/Pacific was uneventful - I did hear 4QD Emerald QLD 1548 a couple of times, but nothing else of interest. The night was mixed. At 01:00 UTC signal levels from eastern North America were high, but not particularly interesting with the exception of WVHI Evansville IN 1330 which I heard for only the second time I think. Then towards 02:00 the band died, but returned towards 03:00 with fair levels. Especially notable was KQDS Duluth MN 1490, not an unusual station but with a magnificent two-minute ID by ID by ID at excellent strength a few minutes prior to 03:00. Sunrise was at 03:35 and at 04:00 the band was rather quiet.
Jaguar/Perseus overnight waterfall
Most of Saturday was spent with antenna support maintenance and strolling around with my Lumix. The photo below shows the "transmitter end" of the 310 degrees beverage. Eastern North America is straight down that line.

310 beverage, transmitter end
From the other side, we see the wire towards the feedline end at the bottom of the slope. The black plastic bands are placed on the wire to warn and deflect the occasional reindeer - although I don't think there are anyone left here now. Average antenna height is around 130-140 cm, extending to around 240 cm where it crosses a dirt road.

310 beverage, receiver end
Conditions towards Asia on Saturday afternoon were even less eventful than Friday as Chinese stations even dominated over the strong Japanese stations. Iran became audible at very high levels - a tell tale sign of auroral conditions. There was however little or no aurora borealis in the evening, so I had hopes for the coming night.

And it wasn't too bad, although not much new. The top of the hour 02:00 appears to be the most interesting one, with Colorado stations at unusual levels. A very nice signal from KIIX Ft. Collins 1410. Others noted in passing thoughout the morning were KTUB Centerville UT 1600, KMRI West Valley City UT 1550 (presumed day power), KGFX Pierre SD 1060, KDHL Faribault MN 920 and possibly KOZY Grand Rapids MN 1320. OJ Sagdahl also alerted me about KTNF St. Louis Park MN 950 which was heard competing with CFAM. New log. New log also for KVSI Montpellier ID 1450.

I used both the 310 and the 340 beverages for the first time this night. Differences were subtle and with regards to signal strength much less than the overnight waterfalls below might suggest (it's due to different coding on two different versions of Jaguar).
Jaguar/Perseus 310 overnight waterfall

Jaguar/Perseus 340 overnight waterfall
Sunrise at 03:39. At 05:00 only a few low-level signals were left, but I did note CFYK Yellowknife YT 1340 at that point. Soon it will be gone and 1340 will become even more interesting.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Weekend DX In Kongsfjord - Surprising Aussie Opening

Another weekend was spent in Kongsfjord to check conditions and gear. We are enjoying a mild and dry autumn, with temperatures well above an average day in July, so there is no sense in sitting at home. Solar conditions were mostly quiet to unsettled, due to a coronal hole, but it didn't do very much damage. It's still very early in the season on this latitude, but I did get some nice catches.

From North America, stations of interest were WMDR Augusta ME 1340 and rarely heard (here, but common further south) CKDY Digby NS 1420 on Saturday. Sunday brought WRVA Richmond VA 1140, WOMT Manitowoc WI 1240, WMFJ Daytona FL 1450 and an unusually strong KOLM Rochester MN 1520. It takes something to get by WWKB. The overnight waterfall shows signal peaks around 01:00 and 01:30, somewhat weaker at 02:00 and fading as dawn went into sunrise at 03:10 UTC. Poor signal levels in the bottom half of the MW band.

From Asia and the Pacific, Friday afternoon and evening brought some astonishing signals from Japan, plus KUAM Agatna Guam on 630. Tentative reception also from KGUM 567 and KTWG 801, the latter with great signals. Also the odd Australian. All heard before so nothing spectacular. .

All the more spectacular were the Australians that showed up on Saturday though. Excellent reception both in-band and in the x-band, the latter producing super signals from The Vision Network on 1611 and 1629, also 4KZ great on 1620 and 2ME/3ME on 1638. Signals further up to be checked. What was really surprising was in-band, with our old friend 2BS Bathurst NSW on 1503 excellent on top of the hour, also tentative 4AY Albury NSW on 1494 but running syndicated programming at the time they peaked. On 1350, 2LF from Young, NSW is a new log, and we also have tentative logs from 2SM Sydney, NSW 1269 and 2GF Grafton, NSW 1206. ABC was heard on a large number of frequencies, including extremely unlikely 1602 where the main suspect is ABC Western Victoria, 250 watts. Favoured stations were located in NSW with some QLD and Victoria stations.

So: What can we expect the coming afternoon? Time will show, SDR recorders have been set as I return to Vadsø. The photo below was taken on Sunday around 08:30, and although it has a clear autumn tint with wind and dark clouds, the temperature is still 15 Celsius. (Yes, that fiber glass pole on the right is an antenna, it's a Mini-Whip).

Monday, September 09, 2013

Arctic DX Summit - Day Four (and departure day)

Expectations for more excellent Asia and Pacific DX were high yesterday, but conditions took a deep dip as the signal paths were a lot more southerly than on Saturday. Nothing of interest was noted, except 5PA Naracoorte, SA which was heard briefly on 1161. The following night wasn't out of this world either, with mostly the usual stations heard and European signal levels rather high. Sunset was at 0245 which is quite visible on the waterfall below as the signals weaken into blue and then fade away.

Yesterday evening we had one of the KONG signature dishes. For starters we had champignons, filled with a mix of chopped chorizo, garlic and olive oil, oven-baked until perfection. The main course was reindeer tenderloins with potato paste and fried mushroom picked from under the 340 beverage path. The dinner was rounded off with cloudberries in whipped cream. We enjoyed a 2010 Shiraz Victoria from Brown Brothers with the champignons, and the sirloins were accompanied with a 2008 Barolo from Monforte D'Alba.

Today at 0800 UTC we will depart for Vadsø. Another beautiful day has arrived with clear skies and only a light breeze. The full KONG crew will return in October.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Arctic DX Summit - Day Three

We expected nice conditions towards North America this night, and they were quite good, starting at around 2330 UTC on the upper half of MW and fading out around 0300, half an hour after sunrise. It is interesting to note that on the lower part of the MW band, signals became audible a lot later.

Conditions mostly towards the eastern part of North America, as is standard procedure these early weeks of the season. Ohio and Michigan stations came out on top on many frequencies.

The windy weather yesterday calmed down in the afternoon, and in between logging Asian and Pacific stations we found time for a reindeer stew with assorted cheeses for dessert.

Light breeze, mostly cloudy and 10 Celsius this morning at 0600 UTC.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Arctic DX Summit - Late Asian Opening

And some opening! The band has been filled with excellent signals from especially Japan and Korea, and even Australia, both in-band and x-band, and New Zealand! Earliest Kiwi log ever in Kongsfjord.

At 1800 UTC Japan and Korea peaked at exceptional signal levels. Too bad the NHK stations didn't have a local break at this time. AFN Korea noted on 1530 and 1575 kHz, Newstalk ZB on 1035, HLQC KBS1 on 1539, ABC on 855, 630, 1548 etc.

At 1900 the signals were still outstanding, but less interesting because of more interference from SE Asia/Middle East and from Europe.

This has indeed raised our expectations towards the coming night. But then, you never know... Below is an example of the signal strength of one of the FE Asian stations, JOIF Fukuoka 1413 kHz. I doubt if they're heard much better in the outskirts of that city... The distance is 6800 km. And if you wonder how it sounds like, check this audio!

Arctic DX Summit - Early Asian Opening

From an otherwise completely empy MW band, stations from Hokkaido, Japan were audible before 13:00 UTC. 1602 (NHK2), 1593 (NHK2), 1557 (HBC), 1449 (HBC), 1440 (STV) and 1287 (HBC) were noted at the full hour. Distance from us to the sunset line was 2200 km at the time.

UPDATE at 14:00 UTC: Nice signal levels above around 1250 kHz, all the common Japan stations audible. Even heard 4QD Emerald Qld-1548 with a weak signal, very early for DU at early September. Below 1200-1250 kHz signal levels are low. No AUS carriers on X-band.

Arctic DX Summit - Day Two

Despite excellent solar conditions, last night's DX was a total disaster. Weak audio only on very few frequencies.

Nowhere even close to disaster was OJ's superb dinner yesterday evening: Pesto-baked chicken with mushroom picked by Arnstein along the 310 beverage path. Chocolate pudding with vanilla custard and port wine rounded it off nicely.

Today is stay-indoor-and-see-how-the-antennas-cope day since the wind is gale force and the rain showers are rather intense. The odd bottle of beer keeps us happy.

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Tecsun PL-380's New Long Stick

Some will know that I recently purchased a Tecsun PL-380 to bring along for a trip to East Africa in February. Following Gary DeBocks advice, I bought ferrite rods from Amidon and Litz wire from Ebay, and started to "roll my own" as it were, this afternoon. 81 rounds of Litz wire was what Gary recommended in his write-up, and 81 rounds I did.

Removing the stock ferrite rod inside the PL-380 was done in five minutes, with the help of a small flat screwdriver and a bit of patience (and possibly luck, since I didn't break anything), as it was fastened with two blobs with glue.

The new ferrite will necessarily have to be an external one. The photo shows a somewhat makeshift solution as I probably need to secure the wires to prevent stress on the solder joints.

Anyway, the results were rather surprising. I went outdoor to get away from all the in-house noise sources, and reception was clear and strong on all MW frequencies. It is impossible, and of course unfair, to compare it with a Winradio G33DDC connected to a 500 meter long beverage, but all in all I was pleasantly surprised with what it had to offer.

It will be interesting to see what I hear on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, not to mention  on the north coast of Zanzibar!

Arctic DX Summit - Day One

This year's ADXS is scheduled from Thursday 5 to Monday 9 September, with me, Arnstein Bue and OJ Sagdahl as participants. Starting from Vadsø airport, we made a short detour to Finland to shop some alcoholic beverages such as the beer brands pictured below, and then headed straight to Kongsfjord. The nice late summer weather allowed outdoor grilling of fresh salmon.

German inspiration while testing the Jaguar Roadster
On Friday the weather was even warmer, and we spent several hours outdoor setting up the dual 340 beverage and providing proper grounding for the 50 beverage. As I write this, we are waiting for le chef OJ to compose a special chicken dish.

Conditions were ok, although at this latitude we never expect much at these early days of September. There were fair signals from the dominant eastern US and Canadian stations at 0000 and 0200 UTC. At 0300 we were already half an hour into daylight but some stations were still audible.
Checking last night's DX
More to come!