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During Christmas 2022 DXing received unprecedented publicity on the BBC. Millions of people around the world are seeing and reading reports about the hobby. The journalist behind all this is Erika Benke, who visited Aihkiniemi in late November during my DXpedition there. We checked antennas in crispy -20 degree weather and Erika got to learn about the challenges of identifying remote AM radio stations. DX-wise the 163rd DXpedition to Aihkiniemi was average. Solar activity remained rather high, but at least some North American stations were heard daily.

My second Lapland DXpedition of the season followed a time-tested routine. On Friday evening I first drove my Auris onto the train at Pasila railway station in Helsinki, and spent an hour at the Mall of Tripla before the IC 265 train to Lapland departed.

In Tripla I met Jukka-Pekka Heikkilä, a good friend from my stint in Beijing. He is one of the few westerners who has been teaching at a University in North Korea. Jukka-Pekka was just about to move to Colombia to work as Professor of Economics there, so it was great to catch up before his flight.

IC 265 train arriving in Pasila
The beginning of the journey: IC 265 train is arriving in Pasila. In this report you can CLICK the photos to open larger images in a second browser window.

The train arrived in Rovaniemi on schedule, and by 8.00 o'clock on Saturday morning I had already crossed the Arctic Circle, heading north on Highway 4. The weather was perfect for driving and there weren't too many reindeer on the road.

In Sodankylä I stopped briefly for a brekkie sandwich and the first round of grocery shopping at Lidl. Then I continued to Ivalo for even more shopping, and to Inari for filling up and consuming a kebab at a Neste service station.

I met departing DXers Timo Metso and Jari Luoma on the roadside between Inari and Kaamanen. They had a great and productive DXpedition in Aihkiniemi, so I was looking forward to equally good propagation conditions.

Mika, Timo and Jari
Mika (left), Timo Metso and Jari Luoma met on the road.

I reached the cabin at 14.50, when it was already becoming dark. The days sure were shorter now than on my previous DXpedition AIH159 a month earlier. On the last day of November, the polar night began in Aihkiniemi. No more sunlight at all before mid-January, just a few hours of pale light as if on a cloudy day.

My DX setup was the same as before. I was equipped with three Perseus SDR receivers. Just as before, I had a choice of the same familiar 14 antennas, each on average 1 kilometer (3,300 ft) long, pointing at these directions:

Antenna directions at Aihkiniemi

There were simultaneous preprogrammed recordings of the AM band rolling in Lemmenjoki (100 km away) during my first week, and a DXpedition crew (Hannu Asikainen and Hannu Niilekselä) listening live during the second week. In Norway and Sweden nobody braved the Arctic weather anymore this close to midwinter.

The temperature varied from -25° C to freezing point. There was permanent snow, but only 1015 cm, which is less than normally at this time of the year.

Even though this DXpedition was a solitary endeavour for me making it easier to focus on working remotely during the second week I didn't feel lonely at all. In addition to Erika, I met friends in Partakko, and forged many nice contacts with radio stations that I happened to hear. More about all this in a daily diary:

Saturday, November 19, 2022

There were lots of chores setting up the gear and preparing the cabin for a guest arriving on Sunday, so I didn't have much time to monitor the dial. Getting the first recordings running by 1400 UTC was too late to capture anything special from the Eastern Hemisphere, and there wasn't much of a trace of for instance of Australian stations later in the evening.

The Lutheran Church of Ivalo
The Lutheran Church of Ivalo along the way. Lapland is full of modern architecture, as most old buildings were burned in WW2.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

North American stations especially from Ontario and around the Great Lakes appeared on the dial well before sunset late Saturday evening, but at least initially I didn't discover anything new. I went to bed before 2200 UTC, and let preprogrammed recordings do the job. US stations were heard through the night, with a focus on the Great Lakes, but fortunately also a bit of New England. After sunrise steady propagation continued with the focus shifting to the Midwest. Logged stations included 540 WFLA, 630 KYFI, 920 WBAA, 1160 WCXI & KCTO, 1230 WSOO & KHAS, 1240 KIUL & KICD, 1400 KLIN & WMAN & WWWS, 1410 WRMN, 1440 KMAJ and 1450 KFIZ. After thorough research, I spotted also personally new stations, such as 1220 WFAX, 1350 CIRF and 1370 WSHV.

At 10.30 another white Toyota Auris appeared on the driveway, and I was happy to welcome journalist Erika Benke to visit Aihkiniemi. She had driven a rental car all the way from her home in Oulu just to do a report about DXing in Lapland for the BBC World Service.

The outside temperature remained a fairly constant -20° around the clock, and the sky was clear, with the sun just barely visible over the horizon for a few hours around midday. It was a perfect winter day for some outdoor activity. I started checking antennas, with Erika filming how this daily chore was done, and interviewing me along the way.

Erika Benke
It was so cold that one of Erika's cell phones called it quits. Her blue beanie was a Christmas present from legendary skier Juha Mieto.

When we got back to the cabin three and a half hours later, the last stations from the Western Hemisphere seemed to fizzle out and the first Asian stations appeared, relatively late for the season.

Later in the evening we got to enjoy impressive northern lights arching across the sky, with a reddish hue, just like on AIH159 a month earlier. Erika's timing was extremely fortunate, as the rest of the week was cloudy. Here are my best shots of the spectacle. Click the photos to view them in full size.

A vertical shot of aurora borealis

Reddish aurora

Aurora borealis

Aurora with Aihkiniemi cabins

Monday, November 21, 2022

While North American stations once again appeared as soon as the sun set across the Atlantic, signals were weaker than on the previous night, so overnight recordings will probably amount to nothing. The morning was equally weak, and there were hardly any Latin American stations, apart from a couple of Colombian ones around 0700 UTC. I identified for instance 1260 WXCE, 1450 KATE, 1570 WVTL and 1590 WAUB.

We spent time filming and shooting at the top of nearby Pyhävaara (Holy hill), looking at the Russian border 40 kilometers away and the wilderness extending to all directions.

By late afternoon, Erika had everything she needed for her reporting. BBC published her reports on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day. You can find Erika's video report here, and the same is also on YouTube, with another version on Instagram. There were a couple of different radio reports on the air, but they will remain online (including this one at 18 minutes into this newscast) only for a month.

Once again I have a very vague idea if anything of importance was caught from the Eastern Hemisphere, but I doubt it. At least the X-band didn't indicate that any rare Aussies would have been present.

Meteor with aurora
Capturing a meteor with the aurora was a lucky shot. The short tail indicates that it was actually moving either toward me or almost straight away from me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Overnight was rather similar to Monday; signal levels remained quite poor, and virtually nothing was heard from Latin America.

At sunrise the signal-to-noise ratio however improved to the extent that even some so-called graveyard channels (assigned to local stations limited to a maximum transmitter power of 1 kW) were open. Conditions centered around the Great Lakes. Identified stations included 620 WVMT, 790 WAEB, 920 WDMC, 970 WKHM, 1060 WQOM, 1240 WTAX & WGVA & WSDR, 1310 WLOB, 1470 WFNT & WIBD. WBEJ from Tennessee on 1240 AM was a new station for me.

In the afternoon the first station from the Philippines was audible already at 1040 UTC (DZSD on 1548 AM), but no rarities followed.

Closeup of frost
The sun is just barely above the horizon.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Overnight was poor, although some common US stations were heard through the night. Again practically nothing from Latin America. Around 07001100 UTC reception was decent, and focused on the Great Lakes area.

Interestingly, as the day progressed, conditions didn't shift to the west as they normally do. Unfortunately, reception fizzled out before Midwestern stations with the so-called "pre-sunrise authority" were entitled to switch to a higher transmitter power. Identified stations included 920 CKNX, 1240 WTAX & WMMB, 1370 WLJW and 1440 WWCL. I logged two personally new stations, 960 CKNT and 1400 WRJN.

Today was a foggy day with a temperature of -15° C. Once again I did some antenna maintenance, brushing the wires pointing at 10, 30 and 46 degrees.

Listening to the Eastern Hemisphere looks almost pointless this close to mid-winter, because European stations are so strong nearly 24/7. I can't understand why for instance Romania needs to maintain such an extensive network of strong AM transmitters. The local audience would be fully served with FM only, and for us these AM powerhouses are a major nuisance.

Frost in a grounding wire
The last rays of the sun coloring a grounding wire at the end of our 160-degree antenna.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Conditions were slow to mature overnight, but by 0500 UTC signals seemed stronger than on previous days. The focus was once again in New England and the Great Lakes, which would not be bad at all, if only the there would be more than just the usual suspects. However, signals nosedived already before 0600 UTC, when it was still pitch-dark. Solar indices were perfect, but for some reason it still became a crappy morning.

Danish Radio 208 was exceptionally strong on 1440 AM, beating all transatlantic signals on the frequency. Also UK stations were booming in the morning hours. My only new catch was Radio Seerah on 1575 AM.

Luckily North American signals recovered from the morning meltdown after 1000 UTC, and for the first time this week listening until late afternoon made sense. Reception seemed to be centered around Wisconsin, while the Rockies and the Pacific Northwest remained quite weak just as on preceding days. Identified stations included 1180 WGUE, 1270 WHLD, 1410 WRMN, 1480 KLVL, 1550 KAPE, 1560 KTUI, 1580 KAGE & WHLY & WWCD.

So far on this DXpedition NHK1 stations have never emerged by 1000 UTC when they would have a local ID. The Asian wave began a bit later, but once again without a clear focus.

Mika frozen
Mika after a couple of hours of walking in the forest.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Again, there was practically nothing from Latin America to listen to. US stations were relatively steady through the night, but at such low signal levels that it would be hard to find anything of interest. There were two deep dips before and after daybreak, but Midwest stations returned for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

The focus had shifted a bit west from yesterday, with stations from Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska being the strongest. Also stations from the Pacific Northwest stations showed up. Identified stations included 1230 KWSN, 1240 KICD, 1340 KDLM & KROC & KTOQ, 1400 KEYL & KCOW, 1450 KYNT & KMMS & KBMW, 1470 KWAY & KKTY, 1550 KICS, 1580 KAMI and 1600 KLGZ as well as personally new catches from both Iowa and Nebraska.

The biggest surprise was from the Pacific. My antenna exercise (soldering a broken point in the 60-degree wire) ended a bit earlier than normally, and I was back at the cabin at 0930 UTC just in time to hear Radio Kiribati closing announcements on 1440 AM. Also Samoa (540 AM) and Tonga (1017 AM) were heard, although tentatively, without a proper ID. There were no personal new ones, but it was still nice to listen to some island music.

Aside from the Pacific opening, I didn't pay much attention to the Eastern Hemisphere. The best time to listen to that direction coincided with the Midwest opening, and I preferred the western stations. The usual Asian mix, including far too many Romanian and Iranian stations, dominated the dial toward the evening.

An antenna on a cold day
Our wires to the Pacific cross an open swampy area.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Overnight some North American stations were heard especially around 03000500 UTC, but they were not much cause for celebration. Again, hardly anything from Latin America unless Mexico counts, as this was actually the first day when several Mexican AM stations were heard. Sunrise today was officially at 0855 UTC, but North American stations vanished already an hour before.

Today I completed checking all the 14 antennas. In total I have hiked perhaps 3040 kilometers in the surrounding forests and swamps.

Around 08001100 UTC weak signals from the Midwest and West remained on the dial, but reception improved by 1200 UTC. Overall, today’s conditions favored more westerly locations than on previous days, with Canadian stations were on top. Identified stations included 610 KDAL, 640 WOI, 940 KGMS and 1450 KBKW.

I have no idea what the Asian front sounded like, because I spent the evening visiting my friends Antti Kokkonen and Päivi Tahkokallio at their airy and modern cottage in the nearby village of Partakko. A sauna, a dip in the icy water of Lake Inari, followed by a dinner of king crab and European whitefish. Oh my, what a treat!

Päivi and Antti
Päivi Tahkokallio and Antti Kokkonen with king crab sandwiches.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Overnight was poor to all directions, as far as I could tell. There wasn’t even a morning peak, although a few common stations were heard from Paraguay and its surrounding areas. At 0700 UTC North American signals returned, but I didn’t find anything rare. Just like on the previous days, focus kept shifting westward, and today the strongest signals were from the Rockies. For example 630 KHOW, 650 KGAB, 950 KKSE, 1360 KPXQ and 1400 KIHH were identified. The opening was short, and signals went rapidly downhill already after 0800 UTC, but recovered in the afternoon.

The days are getting shorter fast. Now official sunrise was at 0905 UTC and sunset at 1047 UTC. Normally this would be the best slot to DX, because interference by European stations would be minimal. Today daytime was very quiet on AM, so I ventured to check if there would be any novelties on the European shortwave scene. To my surprise, I scored three new ones: Sunlite 5955 kHz, Radio Europa 6130 kHz and Radio Classic Sunday on 6185 kHz.

From the east, stations from the Philippines were particularly strong for a moment, but signal levels varied wildly in this direction. I was lucky to identify three personally new stations, which was quite exceptional: 747 DZJC, 1260 DZEL and 1305 DYFX. Another unforgettable catch was scoring 5RN ABC Radio National from Renmark SA on 1305 AM, the first personally new station from Australia on this DXpedition.

Ice crystals
Ice crystals growing both sideways and upward.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Conditions to North America took long to develop, and were quite erratic overnight. For instance, at 0100 UTC signal levels were pretty good, but an hour later at 0200 UTC there were no transatlantic signals at all.

This was probably due to an ongoing G1 class minor geomagnetic storm. The morning at 06000700 UTC was poor to all directions, but 07000900 UTC was again worth recording. After that North American signals slumped.

From this day I was working remotely, and so I had much less time for observing the AM dial. I would just try to pick roughly the best antennas for automated recordings.

Sunrise today was at 0916 UTC and sunset at 1036 UTC so, in theory, I had an hour and 20 minutes of daylight. In practise, it was both more and less more, because you can still see outside from about 10 am to 2 pm local time, but less, because I haven't actually seen the sun in almost a week due to overcast skies. Temperatures were going up and reached almost freezing point (0° C) today.

In the afternoon, Chinese and Japanese stations strengthened at a really low pace over several hours, but very soon the band included also stations from the Middle East, which pretty much kills my interest in that direction. I have already scored nearly all local Iranian stations, and other countries have hardly any local programming.

Closeup of ice crystals
A closeup of crystals on ice.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Choppy reception overnight. Conditions to North America matured slowly, but some Midwestern stations were heard around 00000100 UTC. After a deep null, reception went up and down, but again 06000700 UTC was miserable to all directions.

Today there was theoretically only 50 minutes of daylight from 0931 to 1022 UTC, but with a heavy cloud cover, it felt pretty dark all the time. I shoveled whatever little snow there was on the driveway.

There were some stations from the Western half of North America with decent signals at 0700 and 0800 UTC. Identified stations included 1230 KBAR, 1340 KWLM, 1400 WGIL & KAYS & KLIN & KCOW & KQDJ, 1560 KLNG and 1600 KRFS to which I sent a reception report.

Asian stations achieved decent signal levels gradually after 1230 UTC, when it was already pitch dark. Many stations from the Philippines had strong signals around 1300 UTC, but these somewhat more targeted conditions fell apart soon, and everything from Iran to Japan was heard at the same time.

Mika listening
A selfie with a timer in the DX room.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Solar activity remained elevated, and overnight Brazilian stations were probably stronger than North American stations a first for this DXpedition. I identified for instance 1500 Rádio Cidade, 1510 Rádio Aleluia Music, 1520 Nova Rádio Cultura and 1570 Rádio Club, Nova Aurora, but nothing personally new.

Overall, signal levels remained poor. The morning was also disappointing, to the extent that I had to focus on European stations. At least I found one new catch, Salaam BCR from Manchester on 1566 AM. Identified US stations included 1340 KWVR, 1450 KLBM and 1490 KBKR.

Around midday, Kiribati seemed to have an extended transmission, heard briefly on both 846 and 1440 AM. Once again, no Japanese stations early enough for the 1000 UTC NHK1 ID slot, but an hour later there was a burst of stations from South-Central China, after which Asian signals retreated. I had to wait until 1400 UTC for similar signal levels to return. In the evening, ABC from Western Australia surprised on 828 AM on a band that was otherwise nearly devoid of any distant stations.

Later in the evening the sunset opening to the US was pretty good after 2100 UTC, but unfortunately also very short, and not coinciding with any top-of-the-hour. It seems I still got a few personally new stations, and additionally I identified for instance 1420 WKCW and 1510 WRNJ.

Usnea on tree branches
A closeup of usnea growing on tree branches.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Poor reception all day and night, with just some K-stations heard in the late morning hours. Morning however is very relative, as the polar night has begun, and the next time to see the sun will be around mid-January. The "days" indeed seemed very dark and murky, also because of the constant cloud cover.

DX conditions looked equally murky. K indices were reaching minor storm levels every day now, and it sure feels like we are approaching the solar maximum. Fortunately on AIH163 I didn't have any massive solar storm, which would have ruined reception for days.

There was a peak to East Asia before 1100 UTC, but still no NHK stations at 1000 UTC, and no new catches to report. A good day to focus on work. I also fixed some broken cables here in the cabin.

An antenna wire with frost
Frost yet to be brushed off from an antenna wire.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Crappy conditions through the night and day. This was another day spent well working, building some new cables for shared use, cleaning the second cabin, organizing my stuff for tomorrow's departure, and listening to old recordings.

Some Thai, Indian and other South Asian stations were heard strong in the early evening hours, but nothing else worth mentioning. It has been long since I've heard Indian stations on for instance 1584 AM, so it was a refreshing change, even though I didn't immediately log anything new.

AIH163 written in snow on windshield
Not too bad of a DXpedition after all!

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Reception conditions always seem to improve when you need to leave, which was experienced once again today. After several days of lousy transatlantic conditions, North American signals were relatively strong from 0600 UTC. The Prairie States and the Rockies seemed to dominate, with Canadian stations on top of the piles, so no surprises there. Overnight also Brazilian stations were stronger than on most days.

Mika, Pentti and Graham
A handsome trio: Mika, Pentti Stenman and Graham Bell in the Aihkiniemi DX room.

A fresh pair of DXers, Pentti Stenman and Graham Bell, arrived by taxi before midday just as I was unplugging my receivers. Graham had spent a week here last winter, but for Pentti everything was new. I gave a tour of the premises, advicing how everything works, cleaned up after myself, and finalized packing the car for a long return trip.

I managed to depart at 13.25 local time, and after a drive-in hamburger, arrived at the Rovaniemi railway station just past 7 pm, only to find that there was already a long line of cars waiting to board before me.

A cloudberry long drink at the railway station restaurant tasted marvellous, and was a proper ending to another fabulous DXpedition, away from it all, but still overwhelmed by radio signals from around the world. My miniature cabin on the train was the smallest I've ever had, but since I was alone, even that didn't matter, and I woke up well-rested in Helsinki on Sunday morning.

Text and photos: Mika Mäkeläinen

Published on December 26, 2022

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