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 Transatlantic FM would arise. Such a reception was seen almost as 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 Band 1 TV spanning the Atlantic, but what was to follow took everyone involved in the hobby by surprise.
Afterward the reception details were widely covered in radio bulletins and journals- including QST and Practical Wireless. Among the FMDX community particularly it caused quite a stir.
The first signs of something happening were plots on the online 6 metre contact loggers which showed a wide open path across the Atlantic around 17:30 utc. A number of TV carriers and some TV audio started rolling in and then around 18:10 utc there were brief blasts of North American speech on 88.5 mhz mixing with a huge European opening which was in full swing.
A station faded up with a reference to New York and then talk about comedy. 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, eventually the YL DJ said "Radio Canada" and I couldn't believe my ears.
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 was 4353 km. 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
After June 26th - FM TA reception July 20th.
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 TV carriers were noted on Band 1. 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 is even more unlikely 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 around. 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.
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 to SRC Canada where it was heard with some incredulity by the presenter of the programme!