Band 2 DX Ireland

                           Transatlantic FM Reception 2003

I became interested in long distance reception at Band 2 in the early 1980's, and over the years from time to time the subject of TA FM would come to mind. Some thought it impossible, one person actually claimed to have achieved it, but generally such a reception was seen as being the Holy Grail of European FM DXer's. Was it actually possible? and what would it be like to receive FM signals from across the pond.

All was about to change.

The Sporadic E season of 2003 started well and was offering up all the usual reception possibilities, plus there had been a few instances of multi hop Sp E spanning the Atlantic ( Band 1 TV) but what was to follow took everyone involved in the hobby by surprise. Speaking personally I still can't quite believe it, but June 26th was going to change a few minds, and the direction a lot of people had their antennas turned! One very welcome product of the reception both sides of the Atlantic was a lot of people sitting up and saying- this is POSSIBLE!

After June 26th the reception details were widely covered in radio bulletins and journals- both QST and Practical Wireless reported it.Amongst the FMDX community it caused quite a stir.

How it unfolded


The first signs of something happening were plots on the 6 metre contact loggers online which showed a wide open path across the Atlantic around 17:30utc. A number of TV carriers  and some audio started rolling in and then around 18:10 there were brief blasts of North American speech on 88.5 mhz interspersed with the huge European opening which was in full swing. I just didn't believe my ears.

A station came up with a reference to New York and then talk about comedy (I thought it may have been AFN Europe) Then there was a French language station on 88.5 for ages - maybe 20 minutes and fairly strong which was giving hints at its source being outside Europe but I didn't want to get too excited - and then while on the phone to David Hamilton in Scotland the YL DJ said "Radio Canada" and I couldn't believe my ears. Something in my head was saying- calm down and don't jump to conclusions!- but it was clear what was happening. I didn't dare to check other Frequencies lest I should miss a full station id.

Next was light music on 88.5 coming up to 1900 followed by a full ID on the hour from WHCF Bangor, Maine. And that was it --no more doubts. I was literally in a state of shock. The distance from my location to Bangor Maine is 2756 miles. Over the next two hours a number of other stations were logged but a lot of the open channels sounded like soup.

So what was it like? Well, I waited 20 years for this opening. Lets just say it was a lot of fun- after the initial disbelief.

Here's what made it through

  • 88.5 1815 CAN CBAF Moncton NB.  YL with "Radio Canada" id talk about Brazilian music in FF
  • 88.5 1815 CAN CBVG Gaspe QC.  CBC English, comedy show, mixing with CBAF. Gaspe just North from NB. 
  • 88.5 2000 CAN CBME-FM Montreal (Presumed) CBC English News. At this time the opening had extended down as far as upstate New York. This is from the Mont Royal transmitter - this would tie in with the AC music being heard at he same time on 95.9
  • 88.5 1900 USA WHCF Bangor ME.  ID on top of hour and news. Fair to good at times. Later strong     gospel music.
  • 88.7 1910   N. American Station.  Country, with Mark Knopfler country song not RTE or Radio2.     Strong but brief.
  • 92.9 1930 CAN CKLE Bathurst NB.  Ads, frequent id's very very strong. Still there at 2000 and after
  • 92.9 2020 CAN CBTR Roddickton NFLD. CBC fisheries prog - brief burst of signal giving number in "St. Johns area".
  • 95.9 1952   CJFM Montreal (Presumed) Adult contemporary rock, from the Mont Royal transmitter site which would tie in with CBC 88.5 which was being heard around the same time
  • 95.9 1952  Unid North American station with country music mixing AC. My own thoughts on this one is that it may have been CJKX in Ajax Ontario with a country format. Plotting the different receptions at this time on Google Earth its clear to see that reception of this station would have been in line with the others.
  • 97.1 2005 CAN CBTB Baie Vert, NFLD.  Fisheries programme, received on 97.05 due to local QRM. David Hamilton from Ayrshire Scotland also received this.
  • 97.5 2015 USA     WFRY Watertown NY, Froggy ID and reference to Reeba McIntyre. Confirmed later in email from Station Engineer Michael Ring after hearing a recording. This is the current world record for Sporadic E on the FM broadcast band.
  • 97.5     2015  USA      WOKQ Dover NH, Promo for Funny Families and mention of the Hamptons. Confirmed later in email from Station Engineer Chuck Bullett after hearing recording.
  • 99.3 2015 CAN CBV6 la Malbaie QC ?  Three Quebec stations listed but this one close to Northern NB which seemed centre of opening. In FF audible on 99.35 battling with local Lyric FM.

 

After June 26th - FM TA reception July 20th.

Well what can we say- June 26th 2003 saw a multi hop Sp E event spanning the Atlantic which lasted somewhere in the region of three hours. The area covered was large- from Newfoundland right down to New York and New Hampshire. Three US States were heard- ME, NH and NY. And three Canadian Provinces- NFLD, NB, and PQ.

Repeat reception was very close on July 8th when particularly strong carriers were noted from Band 1 TA TV. During early July there was day after day reception of these carriers but no FM until the early morning of July 20th.

This brief reception of CBAF Moncton NB, on 88.5 mhz may even be more interesting than the receptions of June 26th.

Getting ready for bed at 01:50 I decided I would check band 1 and see if there was any Icelandic TV on the go. Late night openings to Iceland are the norm here in Ireland. I switched on my Bearcat scanner and immediately had signals on E3 and E4. I knew right away what they were. So I turned on the TV and saw quite a strong RUV picture on E4. I quickly turned my Icom receiver on and checked the North American TV channels- hey presto- carriers on A2-A3-A4 and yes A5. The one on A5 being the strongest!.

So at 02:15 a classical music station fades up on 88.5 - weak to good levels but no speech, I stick on it for a while with the tape recorder running and eventually a mans voice is heard speaking accented French. When it happened I had another attack of "No it's not possible" and thought it must be Iceland, but on listening to the tape back it was clearly French.

About 15 minutes later I had Iceland on 92.4 in parallel to the TV sound on 67.75 ( RUV programmes had just ended), and then everything died back. The TA TV was in for about half an hour. And the classical music station on 88.5 hovered around for about ten minutes- playing long pieces and of course fading anytime speech was about to start!.

The recording was later confirmed by Charles Gauthier an FM DXer from Quebec who sent it on to SRC Canada where it was heard with some incredulity by the presenter of the programme!  The following evening saw a big opening to the North with reception of Iceland and the Faeroe Isles, this was repeated August 4th around 0230 local time. I wonder would catching these late night openings to the North and North West offer an even more likely chance of TA reception than the huge opening of June 26th.

                                                  Reasons for TA reception


The mechanism that results (in E layer) ionization is not clearly understood, and several interesting theories exist. An understanding of the mechanism might allow the prediction of Sp E, perhaps the most elusive form of DX. One contemporary theory postulates that sharp and violent "rips" in the continuity of the stratosphere or abrupt changes in atmosphere result in wind shears at very high altitudes. This effect should result in strong changes in static electricity that ionize the lower levels of the ionosphere. The rips in the atmospheric fabric would have E clouds associated with them. As the area where signals are being received moves along with the wind shear signals begin to fade suddenly and other geographic areas come into range.

Another theory states that E openings are related to certain violent weather activity in the atmosphere. The actual relationship is not clearly defined, but there appears to be a definite correlation between E skip and "bad" weather areas including thunder storms. Reception has been observed to be likely across such areas"  - J.D. Stewart, WA4MVI from the "VHF Propagation Handbook".

Taking this into account a look at the weather charts for June 26 and July 20 2003 quickly turn ones attention to Atlantic lows across which reception may have been possible. Were these Lows associated with thunder storms?

                                                Weather Chart for June 26th 2003

 

         Weather chart for July 20th 2003 - time of reception of CBAF Moncton NB on 88.5