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.
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
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?