One of the few pros
of the pandemic is the liberty to work remotely,
and ideally, combine it with DXing. So that's what
I did in Aihkiniemi. It is not only the best AM
DXing base, but also one of the most remote locations
with a fast internet connection. Focusing full time
on work and scanning the AM dial during the remaining
waking hours was a very intensive experience, but
well worth it. Constantly changing conditions resulted
in new catches from nearly every continent.
From a DXing perspective, work was of course a major
constraint. I figured it would be easier if I was
up there just by myself, so I spent two weeks in
solitary confinement in Aihkiniemi
except for a happy surprise encounter halfway
into the expedition.
was planning to follow propagation close enough
to know which antenna azimuth would be best at any
given time, but otherwise I would mostly just let
my recordings accumulate, and research them more
thoroughly on some later date. Hopefully that opportunity
will present itself before retirement, and only
then will I know how plentiful the haul turns out
to be. As it turned out, however, I wasn't able
to resist the urge to review the most promising
DX sessions immediately either already in Aihkiniemi,
or soon afterwards at home.
Waiting for the IC 265 train at Pasila station
for the AIH133 DXpedition followed a time-tested
routine. No flying like on the previous DXpedition
but instead I packed my Toyota Auris, drove it to
Pasila Railway Station in Helsinki, and loaded it
onto the train.
I would have departed on Friday evening, but all
car-carrier wagons for the overnight train had been
sold out long ago, so I had to postpone my departure
as we are with the COVID-19 pandemic, I bought snacks
to consume in the safety and comfort of my of own
cabin without resorting to the overpriced goodies
of the restaurant car.
265 stayed on schedule and arrived in Rovaniemi
before dawn. A private cabin in the sleeping car
guaranteed a good night sleep, so I felt well rested
before the 400-kilometer drive further north. Nothing
seemed to be open early on a Sunday morning, but
a couple of chocolate bars were enough for the first
few hundred kilometers.
A deep-frozen spruce forest near Saariselkä
ski resort in Inari at dusk.
of my soundtracks on the deserted and snowy Highway
4 (E75) was "USA and Canada on the Air,"
a nostalgic potpourri of station identifications
and iconic commercial spots from North American
stations. This LP-length recording was produced
by the Finnish DX Association decades ago, before
the internet, and is made up of recordings collected
by Finnish DXers during their travels around North
America. The good old days... Originally it was
sold only as a cassette tape, but I had burned it
on a CD.
The airwaves even old recordings can
be a decent substitute for real travel, as exercising
wanderlust remains constrained by the pandemic.
And this particular recording brought back many
memories of both previous Lapland DXpeditions and
roadtrips in the U.S.
As has become common, Inari served as the last pit
stop to fuel the car, order a hot meal, and get
groceries for the upcoming 13 days. The final stretch
to Aihkiniemi was smooth driving in nice winter
weather. Just before the trip I had to buy new winter
tires, and traction on both icy and snowy surfaces
worked like a dream.
Northern lights on February 3, shot at around
4 a.m. CLICK on the thumbnail to open
a full-size version of any photo in this report.
the entire expedition, the weather remained very
predictable, with temperatures from -10 C to -30
C (30 to -20 F). Skies were mostly clear, and as
the polar night was over, the sun inched slightly
above the horizon, each day marginally higher up
in Lapland in early February was a novel experience
for me, but actually in terms of daylight, the conditions
were just a mirror image of early November, so a
climax at dusk and dawn occurred at the same times
as on AIH124.
arrived in Aihkiniemi at 14:20 local time. The first
evening was spent setting up my gear, installing
a brand new router (a wireless 50 Mbit/s connection
over 4G), shoveling the driveway clear of fresh
snow, cleaning a bit inside, and simply getting
used to this fabulous new daily cycle of following
openings on the AM dial.
This is the other end of the same arch of the
aurora borealis, shot towards the east.
in Aihkiniemi are a combination of the unexpected
and the predictable. The daily cycle of propagation
creates a framework for every other activity here.
A surprise opening can delay a meal or any other
secondary task. Then there are certain times of
the day, such as the slots for local station ID
on the Japanese NHK networks, which act like pacemakers,
recurring at exactly the same time day to day.
Some household chores are a must. During the following
days I inspected as many antennas as I could, trying
to schedule online meetings so that I could spend
the nicest part of the day wading in knee-deep snow,
cleaning the antennas of snow and ice, and rewarding
my sweaty self with a sauna afterwards. Occasionally
this drudgery felt quite extreme, because in the
most difficult sections it took almost an hour to
cover one kilometer of antenna maintenance. What's
the point, you might ask. Sometimes in the freezing
forest I also questioned the sanity of this all.
Here are the directions of the 14 Beverage-type
antennas at Aihkiniemi, each of them about one kilometer
(3,000 ft) long. The longest one is the 270-degree
wire, approximately 1,200 meters.
wasn't the only DXer in Lapland at the time. There
were parallel DX efforts 100 kilometers away in
Lemmenjoki, where LEM443
(Jopi Nyman & Jussi Suokas) and LEM444
(Hannu Tikkanen) enjoyed similar mediocre or even
below average propagation conditions.
The Aihkiniemi cabin on a cold night.
of the time the geomagnetic field was restless,
which implied sudden shifts in propagation, and
generally rather short useful openings. One of the
highlights of the expedition was February 11, when
U.S. East Coast stations were quite strong for a
few hours, and I finally caught the TIS station
of the season, WQFG689 from New Jersey on 1710 AM.
neat day was the following day, February 12, when
New Zealand offered some strong signals for hours.
It remains to be seen what treasures are hidden
in my recordings from that afternoon.
give an idea of how well AM stations can be heard
in Aihkiniemi during the rare good conditions, here
are a few examples recorded during AIH133.
Aurora like a green veil arching above the sky.
stations are a rare treat for DXers just about anywhere
in the world except in the northern parts
of the Nordic countries. And in Siberia, if there
are any DXers there. Sometimes during the daylight
(click the station names to open a sound file) from
Barrow (officially called Utqiagvik) on 680 AM at
a distance of 4,400 km can be the strongest station
on the dial. During a solar storm, KBRW may however
be totally inaudible for days.
Another classic station from Alaska is KJNP
from "North Pole" (1170 AM), about 5,100
km away (BTW, the distance to the real North Pole
would be less than half of that). Hearing it is
always quite nostalgic, because the station ID has
remained the same for decades, and back in 2007
I even visited the station during a reporting assignment
one more Alaskan station, KAGV
(1110 AM). Two years ago I made a video, which demonstrates
the sound quality of stations
from Alaska and Hawaii. There are also other
videos from Aihkiniemi on my YouTube channel, and
one is a must for anyone interested in knowing
more about Aihkiniemi.
Landscape around an antenna pointing at 46 degrees.
Hawaii, another pretty exclusive treat for most
AM DXers. Here are samples of KLHT
Honolulu (1040 AM), KKEA
(1420 AM), and KREA
(1540 AM), and my favorite, thanks to its fabulous
Hawaiian format, KKNE
(940 AM). I sometimes listen to this station just
for fun, if nothing new can be heard. All of these
Hawaiian stations are located almost 10,000 km away.
put this into perspective, these aren't everyday
stations even here. But as we do have a 1-km-long
Beverage antenna pointing north toward Alaska and
Hawaii, when the ionosphere cooperates, the results
can be pretty neat.
if a solar storm hits? During much of AIH133 conditions
were quite disturbed. This is usually the best time
to look for stations direct south. Here's a sample
of Rádio Moçambique with local programming
Delgado (1224 AM), about 9,200 km away.
An urgent but easy repair task: Remove the fallen
branch to let the antenna rise back up. Reindeer
tracks on the left.
here's another station from the same direction,
Free Africa (1377 AM) from Mwanza in Tanzania,
about 8,000 km away.
And of course we listen to a lot of Asian stations.
DXers here tend to be picky when identifying stations.
Whenever a local station ID can be heard at some
point, it is the preferred option to identify the
station. It can take years to hear it at the rare
moment when a local ID is announced, but it is much
more rewarding. Here's an example from Thailand.
The national broadcaster's regional outlet in Phitsanulok
(1026 AM) giving a local ID just before sign-off.
for a local ID has the added benefit that you can
distinguish between different local transmitters
on the same frequency. This applies especially to
NHK stations in Japan. We always want to catch a
local ID before sending a reception report to an
DXing solo has its benefits less cramped
in the cabin.
a rare target feels twice as good when you happen
to hear a local ID. Newstalk ZB is a nationwide
network in New Zealand, but occasionally it airs
local breaks for local commercial spots. Here's
the "most common" (although, no Kiwi can
really be considered common at a distance of over
16,000 km) Newstalk ZB station from Wellington
on 1035 AM, recorded during AIH133.
None of the above stations are personally new catches,
so they are not listed in the AIH133
DXpedition Log. It would be just too much work
to start listing all the hundreds and hundreds of
more or less regular catches, but I still thought
that these examples would be interesting enough
to post here as representative samples of what can
normally be heard in Aihkiniemi. Even a newcomer
can expect to hear these stations and hundreds more
in Aihkiniemi, if only one knows which of the 14
available Beverage antennas is the smartest choice
at any given time, and if the solar weather is at
least moderately favorable. And actually I made
an exception for North America, listing also the
more common stations by call letters in the log.
This highlights how many regular catches are encountered
when chasing for rarities.
Click the image to open
the video about antenna cleaning on YouTube.
DXing in a location above the Arctic Circle is much
more exciting than on lower latitudes. The AM band
can change wildly from total silence to a great
opening and back. Each day and night are different.
That's what makes DXing in the Arctic highly addictive.
finally, an educational video. If you ever think
of DXing in Aihkiniemi, you need to take into account
that it is physically hard labor, meaning you need
to be fit. We expect every DX crew to check the
Beverage antennas since we prefer to catch
radio stations to catching moose and reindeer. In
the winter it means walking in deep snow on difficult
terrain, and cleaning the wires of snow and ice.
Traditionally I have kept a detailed diary of developments
on the dial, but this time it was more superficial.
Here's a brief summary of propagation conditions
day by day based on my rudimentary observations:
This is where our antenna at 46 degrees ends.
Next stop: Hokkaido.
January 31, 2021
I had my receivers set up well before NHK2 sign-off
at 1540 UTC. I noticed a few semi-rare stations,
but no personal new ones. Some common Brazilian
stations were heard after 2200 UTC.
Monday, February 1, 2021
Pretty good conditions to Brazil around 22000100
and again at 04000500 UTC, followed by the
Pacific Northwest at dawn. My best catch was KAFY
Bakersfield CA 1100 AM, previously unheard in Finland,
and presumably running on daytime power through
February 2, 2021
North American stations faded out by 0800 UTC. Some
common Pacific stations during the day (such as
Tonga 1017 AM, V7AB 1098 AM, and a few Kiwis around
1130-1230 UTC). Plenty of Thai stations around 1700
UTC, their typical closing time. Geomagnetic instability
was reflected in the strong showing of some common
African stations in the evening.
My icy appearance after a couple of hours of
February 3, 2021
Some Brazilian and Argentinian stations persisted
quite long, until 0700 UTC. In the afternoon around
1400 UTC Hawaiian and Alaskan stations were pretty
strong, and I was happy to nail the latest newcomer,
KABN from Kenai on 960 AM. According to the Finnish
DX Association rules, KABN counts as the same station
as KKEN 980 AM, which I heard and verified in the
late 80's, but nevertheless it was nice to hear
that long dormant AM licenses can still be revived
and returned on the air.
Thursday, February 4, 2021
A little bit of everything. For North America, the
focus shifted from the Great Lakes at 0600 UTC to
the Pacific Nortwest by 0700 UTC. KSAM Whitefish
MT on 1240 AM was a welcome new station for me.
A couple of strong New Zealand stations in the afternoon,
and NHK2 stations strong at 1540 UTC. In the evening,
NHK1 was good at 2000 UTC, and WLQV Detroit MI 1500
AM was audible from 2055 UTC, two hours before local
sunset. Still no real daytimers noted.
Nighttime magic in moonlight over the road to
February 5, 2021
Overnight propagation was poor, but there was a
modest peak in the morning around 06000700
UTC. North American signals made a decent comeback
around 1300-1400 UTC, after which it was time to
focus on Asia. Japanese NHK2 stations happened to
be strong at the sign-off time of 1540 UTC, and
this very narrow window of opportunity (local identifications
can be heard only twice in 24 hours) resulted in
two new catches.
February 6, 2021
peak by North American stations was better than
on previous days, and stations were heard on every
frequency down to the lower end of the dial. It
was also a welcome change to hear stations from
New England, although no new ones. During the day
the focus was as usual on the Pacific
Northwest, especially Oregon. The last stations
from the west faded out after 1400 UTC, when Asian
stations were already quite strong. Many Thai stations
were heard already around 1300 UTC and Newstalk
ZB from Wellington (1035 AM) was strong around 1200
Päivi Tahkokallio and Antti Kokkonen welcomed
me over for a fabulous dinner at their stylish
cottage in Partakko.
evening the AM band seemed to be full of stations
from the Middle East, so it was a perfect timing
to take a break from DXing and visit the stylish
vacation home of Antti Kokkonen and Päivi Tahkokallio
in the nearby village of Partakko. Antti is a colleague,
he used to work as journalist at Yle, but nowadays
he is the editor-in-chief of a regional newspaper,
Lapin Kansa. We enjoyed sauna and a dip in the frozen
Lake Inari. Antti smoked whitefish which he had
caught from near the cabin in the fall. Topped off
with smoked reindeer, this feast was truly made
of local delicacies.
Antti and Päivi visited Aihkiniemi earlier
in the afternoon. Antti later sent two journalists
from his newspaper to cover the phenomenon of AM
DXing in Aihkiniemi. They interviewed Jari Sinisalo,
who arrived in Aihkiniemi right after me. Without
subscribing, you can at least enjoy the drone
view on the Lapin Kansa website.
February 7, 2021
the night and in the morning reception was erratic
and mostly lousy from all directions. North American
stations peaked briefly at 0100 UTC, then all but
vanished before reappearing around 0500 UTC. Stations
faded out around 0700 UTC, and only the strongest
ones from the Pacific Northwest were detected at
times during the day.
Thanks to Antti, my best dinner was fillets
of locally caught whitefish.
recording stations from the Eastern Hemisphere just
before 1400 UTC. It is quite late, considering this
is still fairly close to mid-winter. Surprisingly,
Newstalk ZB was heard on and off during all afternoon,
showing up as late as 1730 UTC, which was close
to dawn in New Zealand. Some common Aussie stations
were strong, such as ABC Radio National from Western
Australia (1269 AM) at 1900 UTC, but at least initially
I didn't find anything personally new.
February 8, 2021
few North American stations were audible overnight,
but that was well compensated by the strong showing
of stations from Brazil and Argentina. Listening
live I happened to pick up La Primera from Neuquen
(550 AM), thanks to our 270-degree-wire, which works
very well for Argentina in the lower end of the
dial. South American stations faded out just before
0700 UTC, and then the AM band was free for North
American stations. Signal levels were modest, but
at least stations didn't vanish right after dawn
like on most previous days they nosedived
a bit later, just before 0900 UTC. Tonga and New
Zealand emerged much earlier than before, at 1000
UTC, but this outburst turned out to be short, and
after 1100 UTC there was hardly anything audible
from either east or west.
to wait until 1400 UTC to get a wider selection
of signals from the east. The usual suspects from
the Southern Pacific were noted as well (Gold FM
on 990 AM and Newstalk ZB on 1035 AM). Interestingly,
Magic on 1107 AM was heard for the first time already
at 1000 UTC and the last Kiwi around 1500 UTC, but
still the number of stations was extremely limited.
The surrounding area is not a nature reserve,
but fortunately massive old and even
dead pine trees are still left standing.
February 9, 2021
the night Brazilian stations emerged after 2200
UTC, and Argentinian stations followed after local
nightfall. These stations peaked nicely around 0600
UTC, but afterwards only some weak signals from
North America were heard. For many hours during
the day, the AM band was completely devoid of stations,
possibly apart from NRK Svalbard on 1485 AM and
the UK on 693 AM.
stations were remarkably slow to rise so that I
ended up recording them only after 1530 UTC when
it was already pitch dark here. Especially Chinese
stations remained on the dial through the evening,
but I found no new ones.
February 10, 2021
the night a handful of Brazilian stations emerged
after darkness fell, starting from the northeastern
corner of the country. North American stations took
longer to appear, but the Great Lakes area was dominating
the dial after midnight UTC. Reception gradually
improved at daybreak, but the eastern half the U.S.
vanished fast in daylight. What remained were the
typical stations from Washington, Oregon, Idaho
Between the laptops is my antenna switcher.
A Perseus receiver can be partly seen to the
right of it, behind the second laptop. Perseus
is the black box with a green led. The mess
of wires above is where the coax cables come
to the cabin.
and consequently the magnetic field were calm for
a change, manifested on the AM dial by the early
arrival of East Asian stations. I noticed the first
NHK stations soon after 0900 UTC, and V7AB (1098
AM) was heard for hours. Plenty of Chinese stations
were heard for hours as well, and loads of Asian
stations throughout the evening. Despite the generally
good feeling on the dial, I didn't instantly make
any personally new catches.
February 11, 2021
no daytimers during the early hours of the night,
but before I went to sleep, I was happy to note
the strong showing of Harbour Light (1400 AM) and
some other Caribbean stations. For a change I didn't
leave two antennas recording North America, but
chose one (at 291 degrees) pointing to the Caribbean.
Time will tell if there is anything. In any case,
the morning hours offered a very nice opening to
the U.S. East Coast, especially to New England.
Personally new catches included stations like WXME
780 AM, WURD 900 AM, and WLIS 1420 AM. WRNY Rome
NY (1350 AM) posted about my reception on its
Facebook page, and WHZP Veazie ME (1400 AM)
nice piece on its website. The aurora photos
seem to make an impression whenever I send them
along with my reception report.
stations remained on the dial until 1000 UTC, and
finally I also nailed the most coveted U.S. station
of the season, the Hudson County NJ TIS station
WQFG689 on 1710 AM, with remarkable reception quality.
The last hour of the opening was most interesting,
and that's when I even identified a couple of Nicaraguan
AM stations, Nueva Radio Ya on 600 AM and Radio
La Sandino on 740 AM, the latter of which probably
hasn't been heard in Finland before.
Beard moss requires clean air to grow like this.
The air in this part of Lapland is the cleanest
in the European Union.
and some common Pacific stations appeared briefly
around 1000-1100 UTC, followed by a lull of several
hours, when nothing much was heard from anywhere.
The common Pacific Northwest was there, and from
before 1500 UTC also Asian stations, but opening
first to Iran and the Middle East, which wasn't
very thrilling. In the evening I happened to catch
live RRI Nabire on 729 AM, a long-sought target
February 12, 2021
from the U.S. East Coast were relatively strong
in the wee hours of the night, but already before
daybreak stations from the Midwest were at least
equally prominent. I heard some stations from the
southern states, but there were no sensational openings
to any particular region. Despite a brief weakening
after sunrise, North American signals remained quite
strong until about 1200 UTC, by that time focusing
in the Pacific Northwest. Personal new ones included
KLCL 1470 AM, KCTE 1510 AM, and WISP 1570 AM.
AIH133, signing off at 13 local time on February
Eastern front the first stations appeared before
1000 UTC, but only at around 1100 UTC it was worth
recording the AM band. Luckily the most common New
Zealand stations were quite strong, and it remains
to be seen if there are any new ones to be found.
An interesting detail is that at 1850 UTC I noticed
RNE1 stations with a local break, although just
a couple of months ago this local break was only
on RNE5. On Friday night I had the last sauna and
cleaned the new cabin for Jari.
February 13, 2021
morning was markedly poorer than Friday, but I still
identified a couple of personal new ones, KMRY Cedar
Rapids IA (1450 AM) and WWBG Greensboro NC (1470
AM). I cleaned the cabin, packed my belongings,
and in the afternoon at 13.20 local time (1120 UTC),
I was on my way driving south.
Saturday happened to be World Radio Day, and I was
asked to join live by phone on DYHB Bacolod (747
AM) in the Philippines, explaining what this radio
hobby is all about. I was put on the air as soon
as I left Aihkiniemi, and thanks to handsfree, racked
up miles at the same time.
A slice of light
south was like emerging from a barrel or a cave.
Suddenly there's this whole world around me again,
instead of me just listening to the airwaves day
after day. Time to reflect on the past two weeks,
reminisce about DXing, and muse about life in general
as there once again seems to be more to life
than just DXing. As gloomy as the pandemic situation
looks like, this escape proved to be a really welcome
change, breaking up the monotony of identical days
and weeks in the home office.
Probably for the first time ever, I didn't spot
a single reindeer along the way. The weather was
crisp and sunny, and apart from a couple of photo
opportunities close to the Saariselkä ski resort,
I drove straight down to Rovaniemi. That's where
I got a hamburger at Hesburger, drove my car on
the train, and met Hannu Tikkanen, who had been
DXing in Lemmenjoki for the previous week. Rovaniemi
offered a rare opportunity to socialize in a relatively
COVID-free environment, at least compared to the
capital region where we were headed. The train departed
well behind its schedule, but on a return trip it
doesn't matter. And unwinding over a couple of beers
at the restaurant of the Rovaniemi railway station,
how well do working and DXing mix? If propagation
conditions are at least mediocre, it soon becomes
tough to handle both well, especially as antenna
maintenance takes its toll. Still, I have no regrets
about embarking on this remote work stint. Thanks
to a few neat catches, AIH133 was well worth the
February 25, 2021 (slightly updated later)