Band 2 DX Ireland

TA FM DX June 26th 2009

The night of June 26th 2009 saw the second E skip event which allowed reception of North American FM here in Ireland. Six years to the day after the first such recorded event in 2003.

The evening of June 26th saw a growing opening span the Atlantic on 50 mhz with Radio Amateurs talking back and forth on the 6 metre band. Earlier in the evening I had been lucky enough to hear the Azores a rare island group for European Fm Dx’ers on 88.5 mhz. So it was obvious that E clouds were out over the ocean even before lots of 6 metre paths started to show up online.

As the night set in it was clear that something substantial was under way. Toward 2100 UTC weak North American TV carriers started to be heard getting higher in frequency as the MUF grew. By just before the hour signals were up to at least 77.25 mhz.

At this point I moved my antenna round to its western position and settled into what I thought might be another fruitless attempt to hear the other side of the pond.

In the intervening years since 2003 I had spent countless hours monitoring 88.5 (My lowest clear-ish North American channel). On perhaps half a dozen occasions over that period transatlantic reception had been close. TV carriers had reached channels A5 or A6 77.25 and 83.25 mhz respectively, but the seemingly small jump onto the FM band had not happened since the night of July 20th 2003.

92.1 Reception of CJOZ from Bonavista Newfoundland Canada

So as you can imagine my excitement level nearly went through the roof when I started to hear something begin to mix with semi local RTE1 on 88.5. Thankfully tropo conditions weren’t up and the Irish transmitter at Three Rock outside Dublin wasn’t terribly strong off the back of my antenna.

Less that a minute into the local ten o’clock news and the male Irish newsreader was replaced by an American woman talking about the death of Michael Jackson. Within seconds she made a reference to NPR and I knew I was dealing with an opening into the US rather than Canada.

Next I went looking for other signals figuring the news would run for at least another few minutes. The next channel with a mix of US signals was 90.7. My next pretty clear North American channel up. A woman was ending a news bulletin and made some transport references to “Queens” she then gave a weak station ID which I didn’t catch at the time. This later turned out to be WFUV in New York.

 Within a minute or so of this, still on 90.7 a male voice was heard with several news items referencing Alabama. I thought it must be an NPR station and didn’t dwell on the Southern focus of the news. Alabama?!....nah…not possible” In retrospect perhaps not such smart thinking! I moved on looking for other signals.

 94.1 A station running a promotion and then a mention of “South Philly” ( WYSP Philadelphia, PA). At this point I started to pinch myself. Was this really happening!

 95.1 Pop music mixing with a talk show, a call in, presenter says “The Howie Carr show”. Good stuff, I can check that out. All this time I might add I had a tape running.

Everything being heard would be used later for identifications. 95.1 turned out to be WXTK in West Yarmouth, Massachusetts. The pop music on this channel turned out to be WAYV Atlantic City, New Jersey. The identification in this case was down to Nick Langan from New Jersey who managed to tie the music being played with the playlist of WAYV. This fitted with the area being received and the next station heard.

97.3 WENJ Millville New Jersey mixing WJFD New Bedford Massachusetts via multihop Sporadic E

97.3 advertisements for Vic’s Subs sandwich shop in Absecon New Jersey, followed by ID from WENJ Millville New Jersey “97 -3 ESPN FM South Jersey’s sports leader”. This was mixing with Portuguese language which totally threw me – this was WJFD, New Bedford Massachusetts probably the only FM station in the US with Portuguese programming.

 WENJ was the strongest and longest lived of the signals received getting up to very good levels with little fading. It was audible from probably 2115 until 2140.

Next it was back to 95.9 which offered up WOSC Bethany Beach, Delaware with rock music, a weather check and identification as “96 Rock”. This was mixing with classical music from WCRI , Block Island, Rhode Island, the only station playing classics on this frequency.

Next was a very brief signal on 98.1 luckily during a promotion break, with mentions of the Steer Inn Tavern which turned out to be in Berlin, Maryland. This station was WOCM Selbyville, Delaware, with the same transmitter site as WOSC 95.9 at Cape Isle Of Wight, Maryland.

Finally 92.1 brought the only Canadian reception of the opening, CJOZ in Bonavista Newfoundland with promos for Bonavista and St. Johns. This was around 2130 utc.

And then it was over. There were still a few signals around for another few minutes but no other stations were logged. There was further NPR on 88.5 and 90.7 and finally around 2200 utc a station faded up on 88.5 running an ad with a 1-800 number and that was it.

 I was actually glad it was over, maybe I could now start to calm down a bit.

 Immediately I started into the detective work which is part and parcel of identifying distant stations and over the next couple of days all but one of the dozen stations heard were fully identified. This was in no small measure to several leads from American DX’ers on the WTFDA list.

 Notable is Nick Langan’s contribution. Not only did he identify WAYV 95.1 but also made me take another look at those Alabama references that were heard on 90.7. Nick suggested that jazz mixing on one of my recordings with suspected WFUV could not have come from any other source other than a “smooth jazz” station in Alabama.

 So after a lot of detective work the best came last when on Monday June 29th I identified the voice reading the Alabama news pieces on 90.7. The gentleman’s name is Marcus Hyles a newsreader for WVAS in Montgomery Alabama, an 80 kilowatt NPR and Jazz station.

 All of the North American receptions are amazing but this one of WVAS is out there in the realm of previously thought impossibility. The distance for this reception is 4011 miles - 6456 kilometres, 743 miles further than any of the other stations received. This is (at least) triple hop E skip, something I’m not even sure has been seen before on the FM band.

 

QSL letter from WVAS 90.7 Montgomery Alabama - 4011 miles E skip

WVAS QSL Letter - 4011 mile E Skip.

Text of Interview about TA FM printed in the German "Reflexion" DX   Magazine July 2009.

1. What is your exact location? Is the sea near? Do you have free take-off to the west/north-west? Do you think your QTH is better for TA reception than other locations?

I am located  07 26 west 54 15 north in the small Irish town of Lisnaskea. My location is in a valley with small hills and then steep uplands to my east and north-east. To my west mostly low land for about 30 km and then some mountains reaching 660 metres. Nothing to my west or north-west should stop low angle signals arriving. The hill to my east may be to my advantage killing some local signals from that direction. I am approximately 80 km from the Atlantic.

My FM band is actually quite full with 46 local and semi local frequencies. When there is moderate tropo all the different transmitter sites of the multiple Irish and British national networks are also received. So, not really the DX paradise that some people imagine!

Obviously being on the western fringe of Europe seems to help! The main problem is the local stations.

2. How did you notice that TA FM stations are in the air and how did you identify the stations?

Earlier in the evening I had received 88.5 Radio Atlantida from  Sao Miguel, Azores. This plus the many transatlantic contacts on six meters alerted me to conditions existing to my west. I have been monitoring transatlantic TV carriers for at least 7 years as well. So I knew which frequencies to check. 55.25/61.25/ 67.25/77.25/83.25. By 2050 UTC June 26th I had weak TV carriers as high as 77.25. At this point I knew reception was a real possibility.

I knew things were really happening when a US NPR station faded up on 88.5 replacing weak RTE1 from Dublin. This was at the start of the local ten o clock news.

Some stations were identified by actual on air id like WYSP 94.1 and WENJ 97.3 “ ESPN South Jersey” others were identified by advertisements that they were running ( CJOZ) and station format (WCRI classical / WJFD Portuguese language). I enclose the full log here.

The furthest station WVAS 90.7 Montgomery Alabama was identified on Monday the 29th after a day of detective work. I received an email from Nick Langan in New Jersey suggesting that I listen again to my recordings of 90.7  I had two stations mixing one with news items specific to Alabama. Later on in my recording it was clear that one station on 90.7 was playing jazz, there is only one “smooth jazz” station on 90.7 and that’s WVAS.

I called the station and they didn’t really believe me! I also emailed them but received no reply. It was not until 2100 my time Monday that I could say for sure that it was WVAS. I listened to their webstream and heard the same news reader Marcus Hyles reading the local news. I already knew that it was WVAS after listening again closely to my recordings. Three news items about Alabama in a row, but hearing the same guy via the webstream was confirmation.

Nick Langan is the hero of this identification for making me believe that Alabama was POSSIBLE! Before that I had listened to my recordings and heard the Alabama references and told myself “ this is impossible”!

All my recordings were posted to the American WTFDA DX group where members listened to them and gave advice and information. This was of great value in the identification process.

Only one station from 12 heard / recorded still remains unidentified that is the NPR station on 88.5. It is either WXPN Philadelphia or WAMU Washington DC.

Here is the log with ID info:

88.5    2105    USA     NPR news either from WXPN Philadelphia PA (same transmitter site heard on 94.1 WYSP) or WAMU Washington DC

90.7    2110    USA    WFUV-NPR     New York/Fordham University    NY    50kw    5005 km    woman with news, references to “ Queens subway” and id

90.7     2106    USA    WVAS Montgomery, Alabama   AL 80 kw  6456 km local news with Marcus hyles.

94.1    2111    USA    WYSP-Free FM     Philadelphia/Roxborough Tower Farm    PA    16kw    5153 km    Station ID advertisement  and reference to "South Philly"

95.1    2114    USA    WAYV     Atlantic City    NJ    50kw    5152km    rock music fitting their online playlist identified by Nick Langan in New jersey.

95.1    2116    USA    WXTK     West Yarmouth    MA    50    4718km    Howie Carr talk show ( only station on 95.1 carrying this New England talk show)

97.3    2116    USA    WENJ FM    Millville    NJ    50kw    5169km    Advertisements and id as “97.3 ESPN South Jersey”

97.3    2117    USA    WJFD-FM     New Bedford    MA    50kw    4751km    Portuguese Language. ( Only PP station known to WTFDA members)

95.9    2120    USA    WOSC     Cape Isle Of Wight    MD    10.5kw     5260km    weather and id "Non stop 96 Rock"

95.9    2120    USA    WCRI-Classical 95.9     Block Island    RI    6kw    4829km    classical music ( only classics station on this frequency)

98.1    2125    USA    WOCM     Cape Isle Of Wight    MD    3kw    5260km    advertisement for local “Steer Inn Tavern” Berlin MD

92.1    2127    CAN    CJOZ-OZ FM     Bonavista    NF    6.7kw    3165km     advertisements for Bonavista and the “ Shamrock City” bar in St. Johns.

3. Which receivers and antennas did you use?

Sony STSB920 / Onkyo T 4970 both unmodified  - Antenna 4 element yagi. For TV carrier monitoring Icom ICR 7100 and dipole.

4. How did you "organize" your reception? I suppose you had always to decide and switch between scanning and recording. Or did you use several receivers (one for recording, another one for scanning for other TA frequencies)?

You can plan for these events but when it happens it is such a shock that most of your well laid plans evaporate in the excitement! This time I did not record too long on any one frequency – as soon as I had some information that might lead to identification I moved to the next frequency. Channels wth music only were passed over. Ideally I should have had two complete receiving systems hooked up to recording machines….maybe next time!. I did not stay with NPR 88.5 fearing that to do so would waste valuable time during a long news broadcast. I think I did very well all things considered – only one station of 12 remains unidentified.

5. How "felt" or sounded the signal, i.e.: How was the signal strength? Did local stations interfere? Was there a lot of fading? Quick/slow fading? Did you notice any differences to "normal" (european) Sporadic-E in the signal sounding?

Signal strengths varied 97.3 WENJ was the strongest, dominant with very good peaks. Some others channels were weak – sounding like soup with a mix of stations.I tuned to reasonably clear channels with no local interference. If I had more time  I would have logged more on difficult channels using the dynas from the onkyo, but I didn’t have time. Fading was not so much a problem as intereference from other DX signals. The obvious thing is that North American signals don’t sound the same they sound brighter because of different signal processing. As for the sound of the propagation it reminded me of double hop sporadic E I have received from Istanbul, Turkey.

6. How long lasted the reception? Did some stations fade out and then come back later?

The opening lasted exactly one hour. At the end I heard Newfoundland. 97.3 was there for most of this time. There really were only a few channels open. That was a little odd. At one point nothing could be heard except 97.3

7. Do you have any theoretical thoughts about this propagation? Do you think it was multi-hop sporadic-E with reflections on the water or maybe more likely reflections between several sporadic-E regions?

At the time of this reception Randy Zerr in Fort Walton Florida received Newfoundland 92.3 CKOZ @ 3165 KM. FM DXers in the North Eastern US also had conditions to Newfoundland. I am sure this was multiple hop sporadic E. How many hops? I don’t know, but it was an outrageous event. One hour of opportunity in six years of patient listening! I do think such events are more likely over mostly sea paths.

8. You have received another TA stations exactly six years before. What are the things in common and what is different when you compare both receptions?

This time the distances were greater. The shock was no less! I mean the 2003 reception did not make me any more calm about this event when it happened! I was in complete disbelief. Things in common, well, lots of 6 metre TA activity. Same day obviously!

9. Do you have other TA DX experiences (maybe on TV channels?) besides of those two super days on June 26th?

Yes, on July 20th 2003 @ 0115 UTC I received CBAF Moncton New Brunswick Canada during a late night opening to Iceland This was confirmed from a short recording of the French audio by Charles Gauthier a dxer in Quebec and by the DJ at SRC the station I heard..

At various times since 2003 I have received weak tv pictures from Canada and  mostly Puerto Rico via E skip.

The reception was the outcome of a personal goal to repeat 2003: I have spent six years watching dx cluster maps and listening to hiss. And thankfully when the conditions finally arrived I was at home. In the years since 2003 I would estimate that TA FM has been close probably six times. On at least that many occasions I have heard carriers on A6 and felt that it was about to happen. On more than one occasion I have had weak signals fighting it out with semi local RTE on 88.5 but with nothing that could  prove they were transoceanic.


10. Do you wish to add some remarks on aspects I have forgotten to ask for?

I have been a broadcast Dxer since about 1983 when I discovered shortwave and medium wave. I was also a TV dxer for a number of years but now my main interest is FM and to a lesser extent medium wave.

I don’t think these amazing receptions will spoil my enjoyment of more “normal “ dx, I still get excited by a good opening to Spain and I take great enjoyment from “qrp listening” with simple antennas and receivers.

Also I hope next time I am better prepared and a lot more calm!

6 Metre QSO plot - June 26- 2009 - 21.28 - 2158 utc

WFUV QSL from New York

WFUV QSL Letter

WCRI QSL from Rhode Island

WCRI Rhode Island QSL 3001 mile E skip

WOCM-FM QSL from Maryland

WOCM-FM QSL Letter