Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Troposcatter Experiment - Conclusion

I carried further hilltop listening experiments yesterday evening, paying attention to troposcatter at different moorland locations in Derbyshire, using the Sony XDR-F1HD and a Triax FM5, mounted horizontally at 15ft agl. (This was Band 2 FM reception) 

Yesterday evening, I compared Middleton Top with Bonsall Moor, driving quickly between the two locations to make comparisons. Both locations are close to Matlock in Derbyshire and are neighbouring hills, separated by only only a few miles. The Bonsall Moor location is approximately 150 feet higher asl than Middleton Top. (Recent trips have also included Alport Heights, Eyam Moor, Taddington Moor and Beeley Moor) 

2m HB9CV at Bonsall Moor

As is already known, Middleton Top offers a good take-off from all points east through south-west and is surrounded by higher hills which run from the NW through to the NE. These provide a good blocking effect to semi-local stations from the north. The same shielding does not exist at Bonsall Moor, which only has useful blocking to the west where the summit rises to 1250ft asl, so I did not expect to experience almost identical reception at this more-exposed location, yet these two local high spots bore many similarities. A good example would be Hallam FM on 103.4 to the north-east which was very low in strength at both locations, thus allowing excellent reception of Heart Milton Keynes 103.3 - particularly at Bonsall Moor. Local Trent FM 96.5 and Mansfield 103.2 were also weaker than expected. Reception of BBC R Cambridgeshire 95.7 was perfect, as was Norfolk 94.4. I was even able to null local pest BBC R Nottingham on 95.5 at Bonsall Moor, though nothing else was heard due to conditions being flat. 

Troposcatter next: Middleton Top had several French transmitters coming through, including Troyes 91.4 and Bourges 91.8. Only two German stations were noted at Middleton Top: HR3 Sackpfeife 87.6 and SR1 Gottelborner Hohe 88.0. While at Bonsall Moor, Troyes and Bourges were much weaker and many more German transmitters were audible, including Bremen, Aurich, Nordhelle, Langenberg, Aachen, Koblenz, Bonn and Munster. London pirates are also more abundant on Bonsall Moor, so this makes a good all-round location for band 2 FM DX. 

There are two reasons for my recent trips: 1. To determine how high I need to be in order to experience good troposcatter reception; 2. To find a location closer to home which equals the Axe Edge for troposcatter reception. So far, nothing has equalled the Axe Edge for its reliable troposcatter reception of French, Dutch and German transmitters. London pirates are better received at the Axe Edge too. Maybe the reason is the height of the Axe Edge receiving location at approximately 1700ft asl. The higher parts of the Axe Edge also provide useful blocking effects to some of the nearer transmitters too while favouring reception from north-east to south. 

All locations I have tried recently have equally good take-offs to the east through south yet the Axe Edge is the clear winner when it comes to superior continental troposcatter reception. Interestingly, my home location also has an unobstructed 'view' to the east, highlighted by good, daily reception of stations in the east and south-east of England, yet I struggle to hear troposcatter reception of the kind experienced in Derbyshire. The extra height asl of the Derbyshire hills clearly makes the difference. 

Good DX! 


Friday, 10 July 2009

Eyam Moor DX Trip

Looking east to Grindleford from Sir William Hill

I drove to Eyam Moor yesterday afternoon and set up a Triax FM5 close to the summit of Sir William Hill (1407ft asl) for a spot of broadcast FM DXing. I was hoping the summit might have provided more in the way of shielding to the SW-W-NW-N but many stations still got over the hill with very strong signals thus blocking many frequencies. Winds were strong so I could only get the mast up to 12 feet agl. 

All stations below were weak and very choppy, typical of troposcatter but all peaked to noise free levels at times. 

  87.6 HR3, Sackpfeife
  87.6 NDR2, Hamburg
  87.9 NDR Info, Heide
  88.0 SR1, Gottelborner Hohe
  88.0 WDR5, Bonn
  88.0 NOS2, Smilde
  88.7 France Musique, Lille
  89.2 France Musique, Reims
  89.4 France Musique, Boulogne
  92.8 RTBF Musiq'3, Profondeville
  93.8 Bremen Eins, Bremen
  94.0 SWR2, Koblenz
  94.0 France Culture, Rouen
  98.0 France Culture, Lille
  98.1 WDR3, Nordhelle
  98.1 NDR2, Aurich
  99.1 RTBF Classic 21, Anderlues
  99.2 WDR2, Langenberg
  99.2 NDR Kultur, Hamburg
100.0 WDR4, Munster
100.4 WDR2, Bonn
100.8 Bremen Vier, Bremerhaven
100.8 WDR2, Aachen 

Equipment used: Sony XDR-F1HD & Triax FM5 at aproximately 12ft agl. 

Some more photos of the countryside around Eyam Moor: 

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

6m Aerial Debate On Skywaves

Over the last few days I have been wondering if my simple 3 element 6m beam is up to scratch for working the more exotic, distant DX. My curiosity had me posting to the QRZ and Skwyaves forums for feedback. Unfortunately, my request for help on the Skywaves forum developed into a heated debate, followed by arguments in which I admit I became rather 'verbal'. Those who know me appreciate the fact that I speak my mind. I try to do it tactfully. If you feel strongly about something then you are sometimes willing to go a step further and sate your feelings in no uncertain terms. I admit, I can be an argumentative sod at times and this does not do me any favours, but why? People should be honest.

So what was it all about? Well, like many amateurs and radio enthusiasts, I am restricted for space at my QTH and I could only consider a simple three element beam for my first season on 6m and, as we know, 6m aerials are on the large side. I have a small garden and there are already various other aerials on my roof on rotators and on the garden. I did not wish to further annoy the neighbours by erecting yet another 'eyesore'. There is, however, a more important reason why I opted for such a simple aerial: I would have less chance of missing exotic DX if it came in on the side or back of the beam> Too much directivity can work against you. 

The telescopic mast arrangment on the garden allows my rather heavy Sandpiper 6m beam to rise to 20ft above the ground before any major swaying develops. Any taller and I would need to use guy ropes - something I wanted to avoid. So, before we get to the arguments, I accept that I have a very simple setup for 6m, but one which has proved to be more than capable of working European E skip at good signal levels during the summer months. 

Already this season, I have worked stations as far as the Canary Islands and Turkey, with my 100W signal often breaking through heavy pile-ups. I have had many QSOs with the majority of European countries, yet I have so far failed to work transatlantic DX, despite having heard heard stations from the USA, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. These have been heard up to S5 signal strength at times. Theoretically, if I can hear somebody, they should be able to hear me, however, it is never that simple due to a number of reasons: Stations using differing transmitter powers; Differing aerial systems; Pile-ups and QRM at the distant end, etc. The so-called "big guns" may indeed have a better chance of working exotic DX over somebody such as myself with a relatively simple beam which is not even above the height of the rooftops. But as most of the DX world will confirm, there is always a degree of chance in these situations and 'being in the right place at the right time' counts for a lot. 

If an 'exotic DX' station is active, the whole world comes out of the woodwork. This presents another drawback: I suddenly find myself in the middle of a vast sea of stations, all calling simultaneously in an attempt to be heard, thus further reducing my own chances. It's also probable that most of those stations will be suffering the same congestion, but throw in QSB and DX windows begin to open. Even the 'big guns' will fade and it could be that my signal will peak at that moment. This can create a balance and give all stations an equal playing field. Suddenly you realise that all things might just be possible.

Still there is a lack of TA (transatlantic) here. I seem to be hearing fewer TA stations than some others, but this could simply be because of conditions not favouring my location. Maybe I have been in the wrong place or at the wrong time. But my lack of TA success got me thinking: 

I began to wonder if my close proximity to the hills of the Peak District was blocking TA signals. I looked at the angles involved. The land starts to rise from approximately seven or eight miles to my west and quickly rises to more than 1200ft asl. Add a few more miles and the land approaches 2000 feet. So if my aerial is to 'see' above the nearer parts of the Peak District, it needs to be angled about half a degree skyward. Such a small angle is not even worth considering, so maybe the Peak District might not be so close as to cause a blocking effect. 

Next, I needed to look at whether 6m TA reception is received via a low angled single duct of E layer propagation or if it comes via high angled multiple hops, thus changing the angle of arrival. If the angle is high then I would need to point my beam more towards the sky. There has been some debate about this. As you will see, my concern now was that, if a single hop 'duct' was the only way of working 6m TA, the angle of arrival might actually be lower than my nearby horizon, so maybe the Peak District could be the problem. Time to get a few opinions. 

Firstly, I wrote to, expecting to be shot down in flames because of my simple aerial setup. Some radio amateurs adopt a very elitist attitude. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. The replies I got were very helpful indeed and a number of relevant issues were politely discussed. However, my post to Skywaves was met with a completely different response, largely from a particular Australian member. What rather annoyed me with a couple of the replies was that my 6m 3 element beam was simply not good enough and that I should not expect to work exotic DX of any kind. I was a little perturbed (to put it mildly) by the strength of one response in particular and found it unreasonable that the relevant facts were stated in such a 'black and white' nature. The opinions seemed to rule out all elements of chance too. The big problem for me was that such blunt attitudes were of no help to newcomers to the DX hobby. One reply offered no encouragement at all and that the comments were totally dismissive. (Anger now building) I am not prepared to allow somebody to dictate to me what I can and cannot receive, especially when they were on the opposite side of the globe. Thankfully, the majority of the replies included common sense and favoured the elements of chance, but regretably, these supportive messages were received 'off-group'. Some members of the Skywaves forum actually telephoned me to express their anger at the dismissiveness of the poster. 

Further negative posts were made to the Skywaves forum by two other radio amateurs, one of whom had just joined and was stating that none of the DXers in Skywaves were 'real DXers' because of the inferior equipment they used. War practically broke out (and, yes, I know I was one of those hurling the missiles, but I find it difficult to keep quiet when innocent people are getting hurt). The Skywaves moderators had to intervene to calm things down. 

I get very angry when people take a 'holier than thou' attitude and make sweeping statements, dissmissing those whom they feel are beneath them. This is a competitive hobby for some though. I know that some DXers and radio amateurs get very upset if they have miss out on exotic DX. Perhaps it is understandable to a degree if they have invested large amounts of time and money to improve their setup, so it must be soul destroying for those elite DXers with their lattice towers and stacked arrays when they discover that a DXer down the road with nothing more than a bucket and a piece of wet string has been pulling in far more than they have. That's life! Conditions are a natural phenomena over which we have no control, so these things will happen, but is it worth losing sleep over and me writing an essay about it? Of course not, but I wanted to reflect over this and offer some balance now things have calmed down. DXers and radio amateurs frequently achieve something that they thought to be impossible when using relatively simple aerial systems. I am not aware of any law which states that one "can" or "cannot receive X just because your aerial is not good enough", as two of the Skywaves members were stating. A law entitled "Being in the right place at the right time" would make far more sense. 

Time and time again, history has shown that, while we all have our different receivers and aerials, they often have no bearing on the DX we actually receive. Conditions will change and DXers will indeed find that they are 'in the right place and at the right time'. I fully accept that superior setups offer advantages, they do not govern the laws of propagation. Much stunning DX has been worked or received over the years on very simple equipment. We even have groups for those interested in 'QRP' or 'Ultralight' which present more challenges to the DXer. Many of these people go on to achieve 'as much as' and sometimes 'more' than DXers with relatively superiior equipment. It could also be because of the skill of the operator and their dogged determination, plus a little bit of 'luck'. 

I believe I 'will' work TA DX on 6m, but I also accept I may need more luck than some and I need to be on my guard to achieve my goal. 

Well, it happened! On the 31st of May 2010 I worked a 6m station in the US Virgin Islands and two stations in Puerto Rico. These are my first two transatlantic DX QSOs on 6m. Surprisingly, the QSOs were relatively easy. I simply responded to their calls and 5/5 to 5/9 signal reports were exchanged, so there wasn't even a struggle! 

It's a hobby! Share and enjoy! 

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Noctilucent Clouds

There has been some discussion about NLCs being seen in the night sky recently. Also known as 'noctilucent clouds'. These are the highest clouds in the sky and are typically seen in our night sky in latitudes of 50 - 65 degrees. Noctilucent means 'night shining'. 

Noctilucent Clouds - Zoomed To Horizon

NLCs are colourless or bluish-white clouds and can be skein-like, rich with undulations and corrugations, knots and streaks, clawing upwards into the night sky, or at other times they can lie close to the horizon as a featureless band. 

NLCs are seasonal and can be seen between mid May and mid August in the northern hemisphere, mid-November to mid-february in the Southern Hemisphere). They are never visible in daylight. Wait until an hour after sunset when twilight has deepened. The sun should be 6 - 16 degrees below the horizon, enough to darken the sky but not so low that the NLCs are not still in sunlight. Firstly, search low in the sky towards the direction of the sun beneath the horizon, northwest before midnight, northeast afterwards. 

Noctilucent Clouds - Distance

Binoculars can help in distinguishing them from lower cirrus clouds. They appear sharper under magnification. 

NLCs are can sometimes visible further south, having been sighted in Europe as far south as Austria, Hungary, Italy and southern Germany. In the USA they have been seen in Utah and Colorado. 

Luckily for me, I was driving home across the Peak District on the morning of June 24th around local 1am. This is the darkest time of the night though the night sky never gets totally dark on the distant northern horizon at this time of year. 

The photos on this page show views across Chesterfield, showing the NLC clouds on the northern horizon. These were taken on Beeley Moor, above the villages of Upper Loads and Holymoorside. This part of the moor is approximately 1100 feet above sea level. 

The camera used was a small black one! ;0) 

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Sizewell DX Trip No.22

This was not supposed to be a 'radio trip' this time, but a short camping break with my wife (a mention of the word "radio" would result in my castration). She had not been to Sizewell before so I was looking forward to showing her what a beautiful place it was (apart from the nuclear power station of course). This also gave me the opportunity to explore the area more fully myself as I usually just do radio things on the campsite and never venture anywhere else. 

The nearby village of Thorpeness

Kim, our Welsh border collie, came with us too. We walked miles each day, exploring the Suffolk Coast Path, nearby villages and areas of natural heath land. My wife was so impressed with the area that she did not want to go home! In fact we extended our visit for an extra day and were even considering staying on through to the following weekend, but the beautiful weather was not going to hold out, so we have planned to visit again later in the summer. 

Kim, wearing Sizewell nuclear power station

I managed to do a little bit of radio listening even so and took along a few small items. Namely, the Sony XDR-F1HD, an Icom IC7000, the 'Faulkner FM loop antenna' and an HB9CV for 2m operation. FM 'broadcast' radio sessions were restricted to early mornings and late evenings as I did not want this to take over. I also managed some early evening sessions on 2m in an attempt to activate the 'WAB' square TM46, where we were staying, but I failed miserably. I did not speak to a single UK radio ham on 2m but managed to work several continental stations with the greatest of ease (5&9+10 signals). 

The famous 'Faulkner FM Loop Antenna'

It was nice to add several new additions to the cumulative Suffolk FM log though. The regular continental signals were still coming in with huge signals. You will note that I have included some RDS data with my loggings. These do not often appear because of co-channel continental activity. 

Our visit coincided with a nice spell of tropospheric activity, which was completely unexpected. This lasted from late evening on June 1st and continued throughout the 2nd and up to the midday period on June 3rd. The tropospheric conditions began with good signals from Germany from late afternoon on June 1st. By the afternoon of June 2nd the conditions had moved closer to home and Belgium was powering through. Local stations were heard noise- free, particularly above 105MHz. Signals from the continent were mostly at 'three lights' on the XDR F1HD - 36dB+! 

The Log:  New additions are indicated by an asterisk 
  87.6 02-06-09 BEL Nostalgie, Oostende (formerly R Mango)
  87.7 02-06-09 D WDR 5, Bad Oeynhausen (100W) *
  87.8 02-06-09 D WRD 2, Schwerte _WDR_2__
  88.0 02-06-09 D WDR 5, Bonn WDR_____
  88.1 02-06-09 BEL Nostalgie, Brugge (formerly R Mango)
  88.3 03-06-09 BEL R MNM, Brussel (formerly VRT Donna)
  88.9 02-06-09 D NDR Info, Lingen (200W)
  89.0 02-06-09 HOL R West, Den Haag (100W)
  89.0 03-06-09 BEL R MNM, Schoten (formerly VRT Donna)
  89.3 02-06-09 HOL R West, Rotterdam
  89.4 02-06-09 D NE-WS 89.4, Dusseldorf
  91.1 02-06-09 HOL Slam FM, Markelo or Hilversum
  91.1 03-06-09 F France Inter, Villers-Cotterets (02)
  91.5 02-06-09 BEL Unidentified Brussels station with pops (Dutch language)
  91.5 02-06-09 HOL BNR, 3 transmitters
  92.1 02-06-09 D NDR 2, Torfhaus
  92.2 03-06-09 BEL Joe FM, Dendermonde (formerly 4FM)
  92.4 02-06-09 D SWR 1, Linz SWR1_RP_
  93.2 02-06-09 D SWR 2, Haardtkopf
  94.6 02-06-09 D MDR 1, Brocken MDR_S-AN
  94.8 02-06-09 D SWR 3, Linz __SWR3__
  94.9 02-06-09 D R Herford, Herford (500W) *
  95.0 02-06-09 D NDR Info, Bremen-Walle (1kW)
  96.7 02-06-09 BEL Q Music, Mechelen *
  98.5 02-06-09 D NDR 2, Schwerin
100.2 02-06-09 D R SH, Bungsberg
100.6 02-06-09 D R FFN, Rosengarten
101.0 02-06-09 BEL Nostalgie, Oostvleteren *
102.0 02-06-09 BEL Nostalgie, Schoten
102.2 02-06-09 D DLF, presume Hohbeck but Itzehoe also listed
102.5 02-06-09 D HR 4, Gr. Feldberg
102.9 02-06-09 D RPR 1, Bad Marienberg
103.5 02-06-09 D RPR 1, Ahrweiler
104.0 02-06-09 D Big FM, Koblenz
104.1 02-06-09 BEL Joe FM (formerly 4FM), Egem
104.7 02-06-09 HOL 100%NL, Amsterdam (40W) *
104.8 02-06-09 BEL R Extra Gold, Koksijde (316W) *
104.9 02-06-09 BEL R Extra Gold, Oostkamp (100W)
105.0 02-06-09 BEL R 'T Visschertje, Oostende (23W)
105.1 02-06-09 BEL R Paradijs, Knokke-Heist (100W)
105.2 02-06-09 D R Berg, Lindlar
105.3 02-06-09 BEL Be One, Brugge (100W)
105.5 02-06-09 BEL Crazy FM, Staden (100W)
105.8 02-06-09 D R Erft, Koln
105.9 02-06-09 D R FFH, Gr. Feldberg _F_F_H__
106.0 02-06-09 BEL Club FM, Brugge (100w) (formerly Cool FM)
106.2 02-06-09 BEL Club FM, Knokke-Heist (100W)
106.3 02-06-09 D SWR 4, Bad Marienberg SWR_4_K (partial RDS)
106.3 02-06-09 BEL Mint FM, Tubize *
106.6 02-06-09 D Antenne Brandenburg, Pritzwalk
106.8 02-06-09 D R FFH, Driedorf
106.8 02-06-09 BEL R Extra Gold, Torhout (100W) __T_--__ (partial RDS)
106.9 02-06-09 D R Euskirchen, Schleiden
107.1 02-06-09 BEL Topradio, probably Oostende (100W)
107.2 02-06-09 BEL R Bingo, Roeselare (100W)
107.3 02-06-09 BEL VBRO, Diksmuide (100W)
107.4 02-06-09 D R Wuppertal, Wuppertal R_WUPPER
107.4 02-06-09 BEL Be One, Oostende (100W)
107.5 02-06-09 D BB R, Berlin *
107.6 02-06-09 D R KW, Wesel
107.6 02-06-09 BEL Costa FM, De Panne (100W)
107.7 02-06-09 BEL Crazy FM, Oostkamp (87W) *

A couple of observations to finish with: 
1. It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of stations in Holland and Belgium due to network changes. 
2. Once the tropospheric conditions had subsided, the FM band returned to a very flat state. Possibly more so than usual. But the time of year probably had something to do with this. 

It takes months for the ground and sea temperatures to build after the winter months. Once the tropospheric DX had subsided this time, conditions on the FM broadcast band dropped off to a very poor level: The car radio produced very little in the way of continental DX whereas it is usually teeming with Dutch and french stations but, even with the XDR-RF1HD and loop antenna, the conditions were noticably the poorest I have personally experienced there. Temperatures got quite cold once the sun had gone down and the air had a distinct chill. 

There should still be plenty of continental stations to be heard if you use a good beam and a reasonably tall mast though, even if conditions are relatively poor, plus conditions are constantly changing wildly there. 

St Edmund's Church, Southwold

I think it is important to consider that it takes the whole summer season for ground and sea temperatures to build up in order to provide a useful level of propagation on the FM band. Conditions should be at their best from mid/late summer right through to January or possibly February. I once visited Sizewell on a freezing cold day in mid December and the FM band was alive with continental DX on just the car radio. So a word of warning if you are intending to visit this coastline purely for DXing purposes, you would probably benefit by waiting until July at the earliest before your visit, or just wait for a good spell of continental tropo. I know one experienced DXer who visited the Suffolk coast at Aldeburgh in March/April and heard nothing from the continent whatsoever. 

Some of the local wildlife

Just a point about the crazy weather in this country to finish off with. While we were away the temperatures reached 26 degrees centigrade. This was far warmer than was initially predicted by the Met Orifice. The high pressure was not forecast before we left home either. The weather remained dry and mostly sunny for our entire trip. But since returning home, the period between Friday 5th and Sunday 7th, we have had almost eight inches of rain following torrential rain and thunder storms. Today's temperature (7th) reached the dizzy heights of 7 degrees centigrade while two days ago people in Yorkshire were able to build snowmen. I wondered how this could be, but then I remembered - this IS the 'British' summer. I doubt you'd get this anywhere else! 

Good DX! 

FM Loop Antenna (Cubical Quad)
20 foot telescopic mast 

Sizewell nuclear power station

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

More Surprising DX At The Axe Edge

Am I insane?

Today Tim and I took another visit to the Axe Edge to see if our potentially record-breaking DX from May 5th would be heard a second time, thus confirming that our reception than was not a one-off. Thankfully, we still heard virtually all the continental stations we heard then, plus a few others. 

It has to be said that signals were slightly lower and we needed a little more patience, but our diligence paid off. Signals were mostly weak and fluttery but France was slightly stronger and the Rouen transmitter on 94.0 was strong enough to produce RDS data. 

The Log:  New additions are indicated by an asterisk
  87.6 12-06-09 D HR 3, Sackpfeife
  87.6 12-06-09 D NDR 2, Hamburg
  87.7 12-06-09 D Germany. Suspect NDR Info, Flensburg
  87.9 12-06-09 D NDR Info, Heide
  87.9 12-06-09 HOL Omroep Zeeland, Goes
  88.0 12-06-09 D Germany. Suspect WDR 5, Bonn
  88.0 12-06-09 F France Culture, Alencon (61)
  88.0 12-06-09 HOL NOS 2, Smilde
  88.2 12-06-09 HOL NOS 2, Roermond // 88.0
  88.4 12-06-09 HOL Slam FM, Roosendaal
  88.7 12-06-09 F France Musique, Lille (59)
  89.2 12-06-09 F France Musique, Reims (51)
  89.4 12-06-09 F France Musique, Boulogne (62)
  89.5 12-06-09 BEL VRT Klara, Sint Pieters Leeuw
  90.2 12-06-09 ? Unid Europe with pop music *
  90.2 12-06-09 D NDR Kultur, Lingen *
  90.2 12-06-09 F France Musique, Neufchatel-en-Bray
  90.4 12-06-09 BEL VRT Klara, Egem
  90.6 12-06-09 D WDR 5, Teutoburger Wald
  91.0 12-06-09 F France Musique, Alencon (61) *
  91.4 12-06-09 HOL NOS 2, Markelo
  91.6 12-06-09 HOL R Veronica, Amsterdam 4.37kW. Presumed in Dutch playing Skunk Anansie
  91.7 12-06-09 BEL VRT 1, Sint Pieters Leeuw *
  91.8 12-06-09 ? Unid. Classical music. Poss R Uylenspiegel
  91.8 12-06-09 HOL NOS 1, Smilde
  92.6 12-06-09 HOL NOS 2, Lopik *
  92.8 12-06-09 D NDR 1, Lingen
  92.8 12-06-09 BEL RTBF Musiq'3, Profondeville
  92.9 12-06-09 ? Unid. Classical?
  93.6 12-06-09 BEL Tentative R Contact, Egem
  93.8 12-06-09 D Bremen 1, Bremen
  94.0 12-06-09 F France Culture, Rouen "_CULTURE"
  95.6 12-06-09 ? Unid. French *
  95.6 12-06-09 G BBC R Norfolk, West Runton *
  96.8 12-06-09 F France Inter, Reims (51) *
  97.8 12-06-09 D NDR 2, Lingen *
  98.0 12-06-09 F France Culture, Lille
  98.1 12-06-09 D NDR 2, Aurich
  99.0 12-06-09 ? Unid. Pops. Possibly 80s music
  99.1 12-06-09 ? 2 x unid Europeans
  99.2 12-06-09 D WDR 2, Aachen // 100.8
  99.9 12-06-09 F France Culture, Boulogne (62)
100.0 12-06-09 D WDR 4, Munster
100.2 12-06-09 D R SH, Bungsberg. Presumed
100.8 12-06-09 D WDR 2, Langenberg // 99.2
101.2 12-06-09 D Bremen 4, Bremen
102.6 12-06-09 F France Bleu Basse Normandie, Caen (14) *
103.7 12-06-09 F France Inter, Lille (59) *

Good DX! 

John & Tim
Triax FM5 (five element yagi)
33 foot telescopic mast 

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Troposcatter Experiment

Chatsworth House with Beeley Moor in the background

The location: 
Beeley Moor in Derbyshire. This wild moorland rises just over 1200 feet above sea level to the west of Chesterfield. A prehistoric burial ground lies a mile north-east of Beeley village whilst two hundred yards south the remains of a neolithic stone circle stand close by a derelict tumulus on the barren hillside. Beeley Brook collects drainage water from the moors above and, fortified by a stream which drains Fallinge Edge, cascades over several small waterfalls on its way down the hillside, adding charm and character as it runs through the village into the nearby River Derwent. 

The experiment: 
After noting the excellent band 2 troposcatter conditions at the Axe Edge on 10th May, I decided to try a high spot much closer to home to see if reception would be similar. 

For ease of erection/dismantiling, I took only the home made FM loop with me. I parked on the east side of the moor around 1100 feet above sea level which is probably the best location on the moor for easterly DX. The loop was raised to approximately 20 feet above the ground and positioned east/west. 

Troposcatter reception was apparent but only just. The vaguest of 'noises' could be heard on spot frequencies like 87.6, 87.8 and 88.0. Signals were so poor it was impossible to determine the language but frequencies like 87.6 alone would suggest Germany or Belgium. Rather disappointed, I decided to drive across Derbyshire to the Axe Edge to compare reception.

Panoramic view of the Chatsworth Estate and beyond from Beeley Moor

About half an hour later I arrived at the Axe Edge and quickly erected the loop to the same height above the ground and checked the band. What a difference! Troposcatter signals were much improved and I could clearly hear Leglise on 87.6 and Gottelborner Hohe on 88.0. 87.8 had Germany too but was quite low in the noise level. 

The Conclusion: 
The extra 600 feet above sea level gained on the Axe Edge clearly made a difference to reception, despite the Axe Edge being an additional 20 miles further to the west and therefore further away from the continent. I have to admit I am surprised, considering both locations had superb take-offs to the continent. 

Monday, 11 May 2009

Surprising DX At The Axe Edge

Tim Bucknall and myself had been discussing the possibility of attending another Sizewell DX trip. We had been missing the brilliant continental reception conditions always enjoyed along the Suffolk coast. We wondered if it would be possible to have Suffolk-like reception in Derbyshire. So we contacted the Suffolk Tourist Board and asked if they could lend us us some coastal troposcatter for a day. We had to apply in writing and permission was granted, albeit for one day. The borrowed conditions arrived at my address today, the 10th May 2009 so we took them straight away to the dizzy heights of the Axe Edge and got them to hover in the air above us. 

OK, that's a litle silly, but this is how we joked after we had the amazing reception of Germany. Reception really was just like that of the Suffolk coast, particularly between 87.6 and 88.0. Naturally, the rest of the FM band was less productive because of the proliferation of UK stations, but even here we managed to grab plenty of quite exotic Suffolk-like DX. 

Looking towards Chrome Hill from the Axe Edge

The equipment in use was the Sony XDR-F1HD and a Triax FM5, mounted about 16 feet above the ground. We used the FM5 horizontally and vertically. 

Before we set up the equipment, we took a quick tune around FM on the car radio to assess conditions and were initially very disappointed. Regular beacons like Wrotham and Tacolneston were fluttering in and out of the noise, indicating less-than-average conditions. There were no traces of London pirates aywhere and only two were heard once the FM5 was erected. London's Capital Radio, Kiss FM and LBC were not present either, thus indicating very poor conditions. What a let down, particularly for the 1700+ ft altitude of the Axe Edge. We expected the FM5 would ofer some improvement over the car radio of course and so we got this up as quickly as possible. 

DXing from the Axe Edge

What a difference! The German reception, indicated below, peaked to noise-free levels but the signals were very fluttery, pointing to tropo-scatter as opposed to the stability of traditional 'tropospheric reception. Often we found that two German stations would be fighting for control of a frequency. 

This is the furthest inland in the UK that we have personally known such astounding troposcatter and we believe some new distance records may have been set. 

Here is the log. 

  87.5 Platinum, London pirate
  87.6 HR 3, Sackpfeife
  87.6 NDR 2, Hamburg
  87.7 Unid German, prob NDR Info, Flensburg
  87.8 WDR 2, Schwerte
  87.9 NDR Info, Heide, presumed
  87.9 Omroep Zeeland, Goes
  87.9 Unid. German OM and classical music
  88.0 NOS 2, Smilde
  88.0 SR 1, Gottelborner Hohe
  88.0 WDR 5, Bonn
  88.2 NOS 2, Roermond
  88.4 Slam FM, Roosendaal
  89.2 France Musiques, Reims
  89.4 France Musique, Boulogne
  89.5 VRT Klara, Sint Pieters Leeuw
  89.6 RDL, St Omer
  90.2 France Musique, Neufchatel-en-Bray
  90.3 NDR Kultur, Hamburg
  90.6 WDR 5, Teuroburger Wald
  90.7 Unid Dutch
  90.7 WDR 4, Bonn
  91.3 BNR, Rotterdam
  91.4 NOS 4, Markelo
  91.6 Unid Dutch ID
  91.8 NOS 1, Smilde
  91.8 R Uylenspeigel, Hazebrouck, tentative. French OM on vertical
  92.4 SWR 1, Linz
  92.8 Unid German with pops
  92.8 RTBF Musiq' 3, Profondeville
  92.9 NOS 2, Weiringermeer
  92.9 Unid German station
  93.6 Contact FM, Egem
  93.8 Bremen 1, Bremen
  93.8 Vibes FM, London pirate
  94.0 France Culture, Rouen
  94.0 R Mi Amigo, Koolskamp
  94.0 SWR 2, Koblenz
  98.1 NDR 2, Aurich
  99.0 HR 1, Hoher Meissner, presumed. German station with German crooning songs
  99.2 NDR Kultur, Hamburg
  99.2 WDR 2, Langenberg
  99.9 France Culture, Boulogne
  99.9 VRT 1, Genk
100.0 WDR 4, Munster
100.2 Unid German playing rock music. R SH, Bungsberg?
100.7 Q Music, Lopik
100.8 Bremen 4, Bremerhaven
100.8 WDR 2, Aachen
101.0 Sky R, Smilde
101.0 WDR 2, Barbelkreuz
101.2 Bremen 4, Bremen
101.2 Sky R, Hilversum (likely) or Terneuzen
101.3 WDR 4, Langenberg
101.8 DLF, Aurich
106.7 WDR Einslive, Langenberg 

All stations above were positively identified unless otherwise stated. 


* The German classical music station on 87.9, which constantly mixed with NDR Info has to be MDR Figaro from Inselberg. There are no other likely stations on 87.9 which carry this sort of programming. Also, a probable "MDR" ID was heard, but since "MDR" sounds very much like "NDR" we cannot be 100% certain of the ID. 

* The German station playing German crooning songs (50s type oldies) on 99.0 is more likely to fit the format of HR-1 from Hoher Meissner. There are no other likely candidates based on format, power and previously recorded UK loggings of German stations on 99.0. 

* The rock format of the German station on 100.2 points to R SH. 

It is a pity we could not get a definite ID on these three stations. Any comments would be appreciated. 

Considering the distances between the Axe Edge and these three, we may have come close to breaking, if not having actually broken the tropo-scatter distance record for UK FM broadcast reception. These stations are all over 800kM from the Axe Edge and 800kM is considered to be the theoretical maximum distance for tropo-scatter DX. They were very fluttery in nature, having no set fading pattern. (i.e. they were not received via aircraft scatter, which has a distinctive cycle of fading). 

Something tells me we will be taking the XDR and an FM5 up on the Axe Edge again very soon! 

Good DX! 

John & Tim
Triax FM5 (five element yagi)
33 foot telescopic mast

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Skywaves Story

I didn't particularly want to write an essay about this, but I would like to take this opportunity to explain a few things about Skywaves and clear up a few points. I am often asked about Skywaves and how it began and, more recently, what is happening to it now, particularly since I stood down as Group Owner. 

First, a little history: "Skywaves" was the name of the monthly publication of the "British FM & TV Circle", a hobby radio club I started at the end of 1995. I was a member of other DX radio clubs but none of them catered for the FM (band 2) the TV or MW DXer in any great depth, other than publishing a few loggings on an irregular basis, so after consultation with a couple of other FM & TV DX enthusiasts, namely David Small and Ian Kelly, we got together to plan how the group would operate. Initially, David was co-editor of the satellite TV and TV DX columns while Ian Kelly took on the role of membership secretary and edited the Mailbag section. Skywaves was compiled in Microsoft Word. 

Printing was done on my Hewlett Packard computer printer. Each bulletin was collated by creating separate piles for each page and stapling them together - all lovingly hand crafted! Each editor produced their columns using a variety of software, Wordstar comes to mind as one of the earlier DOS programmes, then the editors posted their columns to me on a floppy disc! This may seem very primitive by today's standards but it was all very exciting and 'cutting-edge' technology in 1995! 

In its first month, the club had just 18 members but this figure exceeded 100 in just a few months. The Skywaves bulletin was sent to members via the traditional postal system. That's right - sticking stamps on envelopes and popping them in the post box in town! The post could take several days to arrive as we had a two-tier system. Some of the members opted for first class post and others opted for second class. Remember those days? 

In 2000, I opened the first Skywaves Yahoo group. It seemed to be a good idea to embrace the latest technology and use the system of posts which appeared on our Yahoo web page almost instantly! Never before had such up-to-the-minute DX news been seen in the DX world. 

Membership soon grew into the hundreds as the British FM & TV Circle quickly became established as one of the world's leading FM & TV DX clubs and, right from the beginning, we operated the club on a non profit-making basis. Everything was done to promote the hobby and encourage newcomers. Any surplus funds were kept in the bank account and used to keep the membership rates at a constant level. 

Printing soon became a lengthy and more complex task in the early 2000s and we looked around for a more professional level of printing. Mark Hattam took this on and produced the bulltin from London. A new 'pdf' format of the bulletin was created which would then mean that Skywaves could be downloaded and read online - free of charge! Members were given the option to continue to have their printed Skywaves bulletin posted to them or have the new downloadable pdf version. After a year or so most members had opted for the pdf version and only a couple of members continued to opt for the printed bulletin. Shortly after this the printed bulletin ceased. 

After some time we found that our regular editors wanted to stand down from editing their column due to various reasons and new editors became more and more difficult to find. Ultimately, each editor had stood down, one by one, but were not replaced. The Yahoo group seemed to be providing all the information club members wanted and there was no need for any kind of bulletin or newsletter with complicated editing methods. Why this happened is unclear but there was some thinking that the pdf made people lazy and we all wanted to do everything online. 

I still wonder if we should have stuck to the printed bulletin and not gone down the pdf route, but other DX clubs who had not taken advantage of electronic versions of their bulletins at the time were also struggling with lower contribution rates and a need for editorial replacements. I don't think there is a simple answer which could explain the demise of the Skywaves bulletin, but I tend to lean towards the more popular opiinion and rather cruel assumption that most people are just lazy these days. "If it's not freely available on the internet then it's too much trouble to bother with". I think this is further backed up by the fact that we have twice tried to re-instate the Skywaves bulletin. On both occasions, there was enthusiatic support for this. Skywaves was downloaded many times on both occasions, each bulletin download running into three figures within the first couple of days with subsequent comments being very supportive and encouraging, but the lack of editorial volunteers has meant that we could not sustain the production of the Skywaves this way. There has never been a shortage of interesting content to include in Skywaves, but I think most people simply want to get their DX fix from internet forums these days. It does seem as if the traditional DX club and their printed bulletins are on their way out. 

Since the demise of the bulletin I decided to get rid of the name "British FM & TV Circle" and just use the name "Skywaves". I never felt comfortable with the use of the word "British" or even "Britain". Skywaves had a global membership, which was another reason I thought the word ought to go. The word "British" also has less favourable connotations, not least because of our shameful and unnecessary involvment in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries over the years. Oooops, I am getting political! 

During 2006, I had begun to think about standing down from Skywaves and passing the whole package over to a new 'controller' ... somebody who would be able to devote more time and develop everything further. My own web skills were not quite up to scratch to achieve the goals I wanted and I was always needing to enlist the help of others . I wanted the site to become more interactive, with online logbooks, useful databases and various sub-sections, each with the abiity to be editited by the members. What I was probably trying to achieve was another online version of the Skywaves bulletin, but using a simple data entry system which everybdy would be able to use. Ultimately, some of the members were reluctant to embrace the existing online logbooks we had already put together, but the Skywaves Yahoo groups continued to flourish. 

Skywaves faced several problems over the years. One year, when the domain name came up for renewal, the hosting company locked it and refused to release it. It seemed clear that they wanted to steal the domain for themselves and sell it on for profit. I reported the company to InterNic, who acted on our behalf and ordered them to release the domain. 

The website was also hacked into twice! The first time was by a hacker who claimed to be from Iran and the second time, around the end of 2008, by malicious hackers who appeared to be from the far east. The second time was the last straw because, not only were we having problems with hackers, but our hosting company were also becoming unreliable. We lost a lot of data the second time, both on the server and on my own computer which fell victim to the hackers and the website had to be rebuilt from scratch due to a virus which the hackers had dplaced on the site. 

We were also experiencing a degree of unpleasantness from certain individuals who seemed determined to cause problems for Skywaves. It was all getting too much and I had to think seriously about the future of Skywaves. 

So, during April 2009 I stood down and passed Skywaves over to someone who I thought was going to do more justice to the general running of Skywaves, I did not expect many people to volunteer for this because of the size of the task at hand! In the end, only one person came forward and I seized the opportunity to hand over the reigns, albeit rather hurriedly. It felt like a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Sadly, the person who took on the group did not appear to be interested in Skywaves and selfishly used it for his own web-development purposes. In the interests of Skywaves, control had to be seized rather brutally and the entire FM/TV database was maliciously deleted, resulting in the loss of around 40,000 posts, not to mention articles and loggings, etc. 

Today, Skywaves is run by a committee of Moderators, with one person holding the keys, so to speak. My heart is still with the group and, once again, things are growing under the new ownership. 

The 800 strong membership of the three Skywaves Yahoo groups are clearly the focal point of the organisation today. I personally doubt that the website will serve any major function in the future, other than to serve as a useful page to promote the Yahoo groups and the hobby in general. I am sure the new owner will be able to breathe new life into the group and keep everything running smoothly. 

So, from April 2009, I am just an ordinary member. I have left all the stress behind me and I am enjoying the DX hobby once again, partucuarly various amateur radio aspects. 


Monday, 23 March 2009

How I Started DXing

A few lines to explain the series of events which got me into this fascinating yet sometimes frustrating hobby. 

My first seeds in the hobby were sown at a very tender age - in my early teens and I have fond memories or our our television going on the blink, shortly followed by a visit from the TV engineer who would come along with his soldering iron and fix it. I would probably be around 10 or 11 years old. While he was making adjustments, I remember seeing him turning the dial and, to my amazement, new TV stations would appear. I became curious as the programmes were different. Where were these TV stations coming from? 

This would be the early 70s, when the three TV stations would broadcast a test card for much of the day. The IBA (now ITV) regional stations had separate programmes. The old VHF (band 1) TV system was in use and stations would only broadcast for a few hours each day, from late afternoon until late evening. I remember the short engineering test programmes which would air before regular programming began. There was one about the design of oil tankers. 

One day, an aerial contractor had called to install a new aerial as our old one had seen better days. I couldn't wait for him to leave as I was keen to see if I could receive any new stations. Yes I could! Anglia and Tyne Tees. I was fascinated and wondered how many other stations might be on that dial. 

It wasn't long before I realised that some days would offer better reception than others. I was now regularly tuning that big rotary knob and discovered duplicates of our nearest regional TV station which were obviously other relays, though I wouldn't have been aware of this fact at the time. I remember one day seeing pictures from Ulster TV - my first encounter with tropospheric propagation. I probably wouldn't have even been able to pronounce that!

Over the months which followed I witnessed further propagation events where I recall seeing interference to our existing TV services. It wasn't long before I realised that the interference was a sign that reception conditions were enhanced and these were the times when distant TV stations stood a better chance of being received. I also began to see foreign television stations, no doubt brought on by sporadic E propagation during the summer months. Curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to know why such distant signals could be received. I was still in my early teens! 

For one of my birthdays around this time I received a Binatone transistor radio. I was overjoyed to receive such a fantastic gift and I have fond memories tuning around medium wave to see what distant stations I could receive. The bug was really biting now. I soon discovered that I could receive foreign radio stations on the medium wave band at night yet oddly these stations were not there in the daytime. How could this be? 

Frequent power cuts were commonplace at this time due to industrial action in the mining industry. Staff at electricity power stations would strike in sympathy with the miners, resulting in regular interruption to the mains power supply. For a few hours each evening we would have no electricity and therefore could not watch the television. During these candlelit times I would bring out my transistor radio and demonstrate to my parents just how many foreign stations I had discovered across the medium wave dial. I took great pride in demonstrating reception of Radio Luxembourg and the pirate radio stations of the day. I also enjoyed listening to the music from overseas radio stations. My fascination with being able receive distant radio stations continued to grow. 

My mother and father were wireless operators in the RAF during the second world war. Move ahead now to the mid seventies when my father was keen to study for his Amateur Radio Licence. Having spent several years as a morse code operator at Bawtry Hall, near Doncaster, he felt that he was almost was half way to becoming a 'radio ham' and wanted to take the Radio Amateur's Examination. He never achieved this as it happened, but I realised that I too wanted to learn more about this in the hope that I might become licenced myself one day. 

My father contacted the local amateur radio society and we met several radio enthusiasts, some of whom visited our house and gave us copies of RadCom, Shortwave Magazine and various sample examination papers so we could learn more about the licence requirements. It fascinated me to look through the pages and see advertisements for sophisticated receiving and transmitting equipment, the likes of which I never thought I would be able to afford. "Look at all those knobs and switches!" I felt this was well out of my reach at the time. 

One day, I took the Midland General bus with my father to Chesterfield to visit Jack Tweedy's amateur radio shop, underneath the railway arches, where he bought a Trio 9R59D communications receiver. This covered 0.5 to 30MHz. You can imagine the fun I was going to have with this and my father actually used to let me tune the bands, listening to the short-waves and amateur radio transmissions! Yet another exciting new radio world was unfolding before my eyes.

The next stage in my DXing career was to discover DX clubs. These would be advertised in monthly radio magazines such as Practical Wireless. I found the World DX Club in the late seventies, closely followed by the Medium Wave Circle. I joined both as soon as I had found them and became a regular contributor to the magazines of both clubs. Now I was beginning to see exactly where I was going with this wonderful hobby. 

Getting involved in TV DX was the next stage. This would have been right at the end of the seventies, at a time when the MUF (Maximum Usable Frequency) was very high and daily reception of Zimbabwe was possible in the afternoons via F2 propagation. 

This story will close along similar lines to how it began - with a TV engineer calling to the house one day in the early eighties, again to fix another problem on our television. I remember this very well as I had been enjoying sporadic E reception on band 1 to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, on my modified dual standard Baird TV upstairs in my bedroom only minutes before his visit. As the the TV engineer was fumbling around in the back of the TV I took great pride in telling him how I had just been watching TV pictures from Yugoslavia using only a crossed dipole which was leaning against my bedroom wall. Then came his unexpected response, which took me by surprise: "That's not possible. We have enough trouble receiving ATV in these parts, let alone Yugoslavia". TV Engineers! How little some of them know!

John, G1VVP