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AIH39 DXpedition to Aihkiniemi in October 2014 , Report by Mika Makelainen

High solar activity and clear skies gave us impressive northern lights during the first week, but AM propagation was worse than I've ever endured in Lapland. Thankfully conditions improved during the second week, when we hauled in a bunch of new North American stations. Once again we also attracted publicity for the hobby. For the first time DXing was featured prominently in the local Sami language broadcast media.

Just as AIH29 a year earlier, DXpedition AIH39 was a result of careful planning to accommodate the schedules of all participants. Everyone's arrival and departure dates happened to be different.

Lauri Niemi and Markku Jussila formed DXpedition AIH38, and Lauri left on the day when I arrived. Markku was supposed to continue with me for another week, but left a few days early due to lousy propagation conditions.

Jim arrived on October 24 and was able to enjoy gradually improving propagation until the end, November 1. However, I had to leave two days earlier than originally planned due to a reporting assignment in the Antarctic. Here's a breakdown of the days each of us spent up in Aihkiniemi:

    • Markku Jussila: October 18–22, 2014
    • Mika Mäkeläinen: October 18–30, 2014
    • Jim Solatie: October 24 – November 1, 2014

Fox on the roadside
Interspecies curiosity in the Arctic forest

I left Helsinki on Friday evening, October 17th, on an overnight train that got delayed by an hour already in Pasila, where cars were loaded. Some malfunction I heard. I never sleep too well in a moving train, but on Saturday morning I was rested enough to continue driving, and happy to see that the train had caught up on the schedule, as we arrived in Rovaniemi on the Arctic Circle on time.

In only 20 minutes after arrival I was already driving north towards Sodankylä and Ivalo for groceries shopping (as were a large number of Russians from across the border), and I got a full tank as well as the last snack a bit later in Inari.

Driving conditions were decent, the temperature was hovering around freezing point, and there was a light sprinkling of snow covering the ground, just enough to turn the brownish landscape into pale white. Reindeer were of course visible, but on the last leg from Kaamanen to Aihkiniemi I was lucky to see also a fox on the roadside.

Fellow DXer Markku Jussila had already spent a week in Aihkiniemi and was waiting for me to join for his second week up there. Earlier on Saturday, Lauri Niemi flew south from Ivalo, after spending a week DXing. Propagation conditions had not been optimal, but there was always something interesting from some direction.

I arrived in Aihkiniemi at 14:30 local time I and finally got my two Perseus receiver sets operational around 17:50 local time (1450 UTC). The long delay didn't really matter, as conditions to Asia were lousy, and there was nothing to listen to anyway.

Aihkiniemi cabin
The Aihkiniemi cabin in October 2014

Personally, I have never begun a DXpedition as unprepared as this time. Partly it was a result of a decision taken by the Finnish DX Association last winter. The FDXA changed rules on counting station points, essentially inflating the value of traditional personal verifications.

According to the new rule, collective reception reports resulting in collective QSLs (for instance by a party of two or three who happen to be on the same DXpedition and more or less contribute to a single collective reception report, resulting in one shared QSL) are counted as if they were personal achievements. So, everyone somehow involved can count any "shared" QSL as their own personal achievement and "point" while minimizing individual effort to obtain it.

The change is a major deviation from any international practice in collecting and counting verifications. I lost all motivation to take part in FDXA-run QSL competitions and rankings, and felt this might be a good time to take a bit of a break from the entire hobby as well.

Makelainen listening
Mika Mäkeläinen DXing

Also, a bit earlier I discovered a new medium to match the motivation that initially made me a DXer namely, to find out what's happening around the world. Back in my youth, shortwave radio was the one and only means for it, but now, of course, everything is online, and of all the tools available, I have found Twitter to be the most satisfying one both professionally and personally. You can follow me at https://twitter.com/Mikareport. Beware, Twitter is as time-consuming, addictive and rewarding as shortwave radio used to be in its golden days.

Partly my unpreparedness was due to other factors as well. We built a house this year, so I've been preoccupied with the construction project. Work foreign news reporting has been extremely busy ever since Russia invaded Crimea. And on top of it all, right after AIH39 DXpedition, I headed for a reporting assignment to the Antarctic, which required a lot of preparation and was also the cause for the delay in getting this report published.

Aurora borealis above cabin
Aurora borealis with our cabin on the right, shot from the frozen lake that is part of our lot.

So, when kicking off AIH39, I was looking forward to a relaxing break from the usual obligations without much of a zeal to collect terabytes full of new stations. And I got what I wanted. The best reward from the first week were the numerous northern lights (aurora borealis), visible on most nights as the skies were exceptionally clear for this time of the year. I spent countless hours outside and shot better aurora photos than I've ever gotten before, plus a couple of lucky shots of shooting stars.

As for the increasingly popular sideline activity of gourmet cooking, I still haven't found anything better and easier than Kitchen Joy Thai cubes. Markku brought loads of goodies from his store, and Jim preferred the more traditionally Finnish meat pastries.

Solar activity decreased during the second week, so we began hearing a bit more trans-Atlantic signals and also some stations from the Far East, so eventually the expedition turned out to be a moderately good one also in terms of DXing accomplishments.

Snow had arrived a bit earlier than usually, but it mostly melted away during the second week. Temperatures varied from around -15 degrees Celsius (5 Fahrenheit) to above freezing. It rained only on a few days, so setting up, fixing and checking antennas was a walk in a park.

Aihkiniemi antenna directions

Above you can see our antennas and bearings, which differed only slightly from the previous season. Each of the antennas was about 1,000 meters long. The 210-degree wire was temporary and will not be available later in the season. As receivers we have continued to rely on Perseus.

Below is a graph displaying solar terrestrial activity during a 5-month period, with AIH39 dates highlighted in green. Thanks to Jan Alvestad for the data:


There were other more or less parallel DXpeditions in Scandinavia at the same time. For comparing experiences and results, you may want to take a peek at these:
- Parkalompolo (PAX106) in Sweden
- Lemmenjoki (LEM345 and LEM346) in Finland
- Kongsfjord (KONG24), in Norway, actually just concluded, but still worth visiting their blog as well as Bjarne Mjelde's personal DX blog

Time to dive into the details of our daily adventures on the dial. Some day in the distant future there will also be a comprehensive log, but it will be published only after the Perseus files have been reviewed.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

When I finally got my stuff in order, I made a few top-of-the hour recordings using the 80-degree and 160-degree antennas, but didn't notice much of interest. For a couple of hours there was a Greek pirate presumably playing non-stop Greek music on 1566 kHz, any ideas of the identity? Radio Asteras ("Star") is listed on 1566 kHz, but the linked web feed doesn't match what I heard. Moreover, the feed actually seems to be just a short 2-minute recording, and not a live feed. Another listing mentions also Radio Apithanos here. One more listing contains only Asteras. I also know that Finnish DXer Harri Kujala has heard Radio Asteras on the X-band many years ago, indicating that the station would be active (also) on 1566 kHz.

Aurora borealis
Aurora borealis lighting up the western sky

On Saturday evening, when I began monitoring the AM band, I didn't find anything new. On 1601.84 kHz an unidentified station from the south played non-stop pop music, any ideas of this offset? At 1602 kHz sharp there was a local Sudanese station from Kadogli, identified with local programming in Arabic. A very nice catch, but a station which I had picked up already before here in Aihkiniemi. I began recording the eastern front from 1500 UTC onwards, but mostly just using the 160-degree wire. Saturday is easily summarized no sign of any Saturday night fever on the dial, but an impressive display of aurora borealis on the skies above.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Overnight, there were hardly any trans-Atlantic signals. A handful of the most common North American stations were heard around 0345-0500 UTC, after which daytime was dead quiet to all directions. We seized the chance and set up a 1-kilometer-long antenna wire pointing at about 210 degrees, with Gibraltar, Mediterranean Spain and Nigeria in mind. In the morning hours I focused on European stations and identified "I am Radio" on 1350 kHz, best around 0400 UTC, which must be the fairly new Italian station listed as "AM Radio".

Otsamo fell
Otsamo fell near Inari can be seen from highway 4.

In the early evening, Westsound, a low-power Finnish shortwave station, emerged on 3959.93 kHz around 1500 UTC. Multilingual station identifications were given at the top of the hour, neatly for instance at 1800 UTC. On the AM band I launched my recordings at 1428 UTC hoping in vain for some new Iranian stations, which was the eastern edge of today's Asian propagation.

The morning was cold, around -15 degrees Celsius, but daytime high was close to freezing point. Some aurora borealis was visible through the cloud cover in the evening.

Overnight totally, utterly dead to all directions. And the sky remained cloudy, so no aurora photography either.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The only sign of trans-Atlantic life in the morning was a brief appearance of some of the most common Brazilian stations around 0500 UTC. However, for the second year in a row, the 210-degree wire proved to be a monster trap. I caught three new Spanish stations (Hit FM Catalunya 828 kHz, COPE León on 1215 kHz, and SER Radio Alcoy 1485 kHz). I have picked up Alcoy before, but lost the recording, so this second chance was a very welcome one. Spanish stations dived just before the 0525 UTC RNE break.

Markku Jussila
Markku Jussila wondering about the surprising GPS reading. This is where the 210-degree wire ended.

Daytime was dead on the dial, and the first signals from the east emerged very late, around 1430 UTC. Even then, propagation was really poor, with mostly Middle Eastern powerhouses filling the AM band. No more aurora photos, as last night was cloudy, and overcast skies seem to continue through tonight as well.

A local DXer, Kristian Waltari, paid a brief visit to the cabin in the afternoon, to get to know the place. Maybe we'll see him some day taking advantage of the superb array of 1314 Beverage antennas.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In the morning some Brazilian and Argentinian stations were heard around 0200-0520 UTC, when signals rapidly vanished, leaving only the local pest Murmansk (657 kHz) on the AM band. I nailed Radio Imagen, Castelar, on 1710 kHz, and there should be at least a couple of other new catches once I get to review all frequencies.

Radio Imagen studio
Radio Imagen chief engineer Carlos Alberto Viñas showing QSL certificates prepared for Jim and Mika. Behind, Vilma Vega de Pavón, wife of station manager Gerardo Pavón.

Incidentally, a month later when I briefly visited Buenos Aires during my return from the Antarctic, I called Radio Imagen, visited the station, and got a very warm welcome with a long on-air interview. Made me wish I had studied more Spanish. Later chief engineer Carlos Alberto Viñas showed me around the suburbs of Buenos Aires and helped me get some filming done in Luján, after I had recovered my camera tripod, lost by Aerolíneas Argentinas on the way from Ushuaia.

OK, back to AIH39. The morning opening closed too early for any Spanish treasures. During the day there was again nothing to listen to, so we took advantage of a crisp and sunny day, checking several antennas and enjoying the outdoors.

In the evening, the first Asian signals were audible around 1330 UTC, an hour earlier than yesterday, but still much later than would be typical for this time of the year. Initially the 80-degree antenna was most useful, offering some of the most common Chinese stations, but by 1445 UTC there wasn't much action beyond the 100-degree wire enhancing signals from India and Thailand. Then, by 1530 UTC, only the 160-degree antenna was useful, as the AM band was dominated by Iranian stations and the usual Middle East mishmash.

Overall, one more very disappointing day without a single station from North America, the Far East or Oceania. This is definitely not what late October should be like.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A bunch of Brazilian stations emerged as soon as the sun set down there on Tuesday evening, and remained on the dial past 0000 UTC. Despite strong European co-channel splatter, something interesting might eventually be found in the recordings. Soon after midnight UTC the signals however dipped, and never resumed, not even during the regular daybreak enhancement around 0400-0500 UTC. So once again a lousy night, and nothing from more northern latitudes.

Shooting star
When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires, will come to you...

Daytime was dead, as had become the norm on this DXpedition, and the afternoon opening to Asia began late. Chinese CNR on 1098 kHz was the first station to emerge from the noise around 1315 UTC, and by 1400 UTC it was worth the trouble to record the Asian mix on the 80-degree antenna, for the first time offering some Philippine stations as well.

Soon the typical Middle Eastern hodgepodge became dominant. I guess I should be very pleased having been able to identify two Iranian stations that were new to me, namely Khorramabad on 810 kHz and Kermanshah on 1377 kHz, both with regional programming, but having to resort to figuring out Farsi is just an indication of how profoundly shitty the propagation conditions were.

I'm glad that the Internet connection worked and that I was able to follow the world by more technologically savvy means than age-old AM radio. And yes, you should indeed be following @Mikareport on Twitter ;)

Aurora borealis
Colorful aurora borealis above the Aihkiniemi cabin

Markku got fed up with not hearing a single North American station for days, packed his stuff and began driving home already before daybreak. So, now only I remained monitoring the non-existent signals until Jim Solatie arrived on Friday afternoon to share the misery.

Well, at least aurora has been decent. I took more photos last night and sent a few samples to my broadcasting company YLE. Tonight, and for the first time already on Monday evening, they published a few of my photos at the end of the 7 pm national newscast, so at least something useful has come out of this DXpedition.

In fact, the aurora photos have been better than on any previous Aihkiniemi DXpedition of mine. I've seen more impressive aurora years ago in Lemmenjoki, but didn't have the equipment, skills nor the motivation to document them back then when I only focused on DXing. Now, priorities have changed for the better, I'd like to think.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Overnight was typically uneventful, but in the morning there were stations to be hunted from Argentina, as well as some Brazilians. South American stations melted into the noise around 0550 UTC. Canary Islands transmitters dominated during the first RNE regional break at 0525 UTC, which unfortunately is a bit too late for optimal reception the Spanish stations are on the verge of vanishing at this hour, and reception is best about 20-30 minutes earlier.

Red squirrel
A red squirrel looking for food

In the evening, I began recording Asian signals just before 1400 UTC. Conditions were not quite as dismal as on previous days, after all, there were some Philippine stations in the mix, and even ABC popped up on 1152 kHz at 1547 UTC. Still, it is unlikely that I would find anything new. Later in the evening, I once again recorded Nigerian Radio Jigawa on 1026 kHz before it closed down with the national anthem at 2311 UTC.

The weather was very windy, but sunny, so I spent a couple of hours out in the forest checking our antennas.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The morning enhancement, peaking around 0500-0600 UTC, brought signals from more northern latitudes than before. The usual suspects from Argentina and Brazil remained, though weaker than on the previous couple of days, but there were also stations from Venezuela, Puerto Rico and East Coast North America. With some luck, there could be some pleasant surprises from the Andes buried in the files. In the morning signals faded out at 0630 UTC, although some East Coast U.S. stations reappeared after 0700 UTC. They were all too weak to find anything of interest, but still it was a positive development.

Jim Solatie
Jim Solatie arrived just in time for the improving propagation.

I spent most of the daylight hours driving, as I picked up Jim from the Ivalo Airport. After some shopping we came to Aihkiniemi just in time for the Asia opening. Iranian stations and some Chinese stations from Xinjiang were the first to stand out around 1320 UTC. Again the top of the hour at 1400 UTC seemed worth recording, but reviewing those recordings hasn't yielded anything worth mentioning.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Once again a lousy night with a brief peak of "La Plata" (= Argentina, Uruguay and some Brazil) stations before daybreak. Identified stations included LRA6 Radio Nacional, Mendoza, on 960 kHz, and CW41 Radio 41, San José, on 1360 kHz. Just a handful of North American stations were barely audible after 0600 UTC, which I guess should count as a meager improvement.

There was nothing from anywhere during the day, but the afternoon opening to Asia began already at 1220 UTC (with the AM band worth recording after 1250 UTC), much earlier than on previous days. Some Thai stations were heard on interesting frequencies at 1300 UTC, but at least so far no new station identifications were caught. In the evening we hunted, in vain, for new catches from Africa. Ethiopian Radio Wegahta, Mekelle, was once again tentatively heard on 918 kHz, but I've never been lucky to get an ID from this station.

Sunny day in the forest
Short days and long shadows

During the day we spent hours in the forest reconstructing the 10-degree antenna, meant for Hawaii and Alaska. The first 700 meters of the antenna had been broken and taken down by earlier expeditionists, and had to be replaced by us. Navigation was a bit challenging, and we couldn't afford any deviation from the correct bearing, because the wire needed to be connected to the last 300 meters still remaining. Eventually the work was concluded successfully, and once again Aihkiniemi had a total of 14 fully-functioning Beverage antennas aimed at nearly all possible directions. Now all we needed was for the sun to calm down and let the ionosphere do its magic.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

One more night with a very familiar pattern: very weak La Plata stations overnight, and somewhat improved signals around 0500-0600 UTC. Identified stations included CW35 Radio Paysandú on 1240 kHz and ZYI827 Radio Papacaça, Bom Conselho PE on 1470 kHz.

Again very few North American stations were audible in the morning hours, with KCKK Littleton CO on 1510 kHz being the only one with an enjoyable signal level. The AM band was still quite disturbed, and there was no hope of getting any stations from Oceania during the day.

Frozen, moonlit Lake Inari
Lake Inari was freezing
and you could hear it, ice cracking and popping.

I began recording Asian stations at 1227 UTC. Initially there were a lot of Chinese signals, but after 1400 UTC the focus was lost, and the AM band became a hopeless mix of signals from Saudi Arabia to Taiwan. It should be mentioned that today I heard, for the first time in eight days, a few stations from Japan, which just underscores how crappy the propagation had been until now. With our massive array of antennas to the east, the Japanese powerhouses should be heard on a daily basis. On a positive note, Radio Free Korea on 1143 kHz was a new catch to me. This is of course a very common station if only there is a decent opening to the Koreas.

Fortunately, the largest sunspot in 24 years (AR 2192) hasn't unleashed anything major towards us.

In the evening, North American stations appeared around 2230 UTC, which was a major improvement from earlier days. The identified stations were just regular catches from the Great Lakes area, but still.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A great tit
A great tit (Parus major)

Later on, there were some fairly weak South American stations, but daybreak resulted in a short North America opening, including some Mexican stations around 0530 UTC, especially from Monterrey. XEAW Monterrey NL 1280 kHz and XETKR Monterrey NL on 1480 kHz were the best ones identified. Among the best athough familiar US catches were KATE Albert Lea MN and KGRZ Missoula MT, both on 1450 kHz.

Some weak North American stations from the West were heard through the day, but signals were quite noisy. Also some Alaskan and Hawaiian stations were picked up, especially around 1200 UTC, which was a welcome change in the propagation pattern. Later in the afternoon, the first Japanese stations appeared at 1215 UTC and were heard for hours. Unfortunately NHK2 no longer had a local break at 1320 UTC, so finding any new ones was close to impossible. Japanese stations eventually gave way to Chinese stations, and a good opening to Taiwan was noted as late as 1600 UTC, so overall this was a very rewarding afternoon session.

Birch burl
A burl in a birch trunk near our cabin

After surviving last week, my least productive DX week in Lapland ever, now it was beginning to feel like propagation was headed back to normal.

However, the weather took a turn for the worse. The temperature had risen to above freezing point, and it had been raining since Sunday, melting nearly all the snow. Even the ice cover on our nearby ponds began to look a bit treacherous.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

North American signals emerged around 2315 UTC and stayed relatively strong through the night, so this was the first night that might actually provide something interesting from higher latitudes. North American stations continued all the way to the afternoon, when finally at 1130 UTC I pulled the plug and opted to follow Asian stations instead.

YLE camera crew
Camera crew from YLE filming in Aihkiniemi.

Conditions centered on the Midwest, and fortunately all the graveyard frequencies had readable signals, so our files are bound to contain some goodies. From the east a station worth mentioning is CHRF Montréal QC on 980 kHz, which only began broadcasting on Monday evening. "Radio Fierté" was quite surprised to hear that their signal had reached Finland. The advertised email for CHRF doesn't work, but you can find one of their on-air talents, Marino Gagnon, on Twitter @MarinoOnAir, which turned out to be the quickest way to get in touch with the station. With a licensed nighttime power of 10 kW, CHRF will become a regular catch here.

Alaska and Hawaii were once again present, and it was neat to be able to demonstrate the sound quality of the "nearby" Alaskan stations live to a visiting camera crew. Indeed, also this year we got our 15 seconds of fame for the hobby. This time DXing was featured on YLE's Sami language service both on TV, Radio and on the Internet. Disclosure: the same company I work for.

YLE Oddasat
DXing featured in the Sami language with subtitles in Finnish, on YLE

Reporter Erkki Gauriloff told me that one of the reports would be broadcast in the Skolt Sami language, which is spoken as native tongue by only about 300 people! Most of the Skolt Sami people live in this particular area, close to the Russian border. I don't think that anything about DXing has ever, anywhere, been published in such a small language.

So, the Japanese stations appeared even earlier than yesterday, but the opening wasn't as sustainable. Fairly soon all frequencies were taken over by Chinese and Taiwanese stations, and South Asia as well as the Middle East tended to dominate the dial by 1600 UTC. Philippine stations were quite strong around 1430 UTC.

Aloha and Mahalo to all! We got a nice opening to Hawaii. After there was no longer any chance to hear new Hawaiian stations on the AM dial, I entertained myself by listening to KKNE Honolulu HI on 940 kHz, broadcasting traditional Hawaiian music. Unfortunately the KKNE web feed is not available – without donation – outside Hawaii, but here's a good substitute station to get into the Hawaiian spirit. This is the best imaginable antidepressant during the polar winter.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Quite a few US East Coast stations were heard around 2300 UTC, but later during the night conditions to North America dipped. In the morning North American stations were again heard at moderate strength, quite not on par with the previous day, but still good enough to enable a few new catches, especially on graveyard frequencies. US stations continued through the day, although at times the signal levels were low. Western stations were audible past 1400 UTC.

Halo
Halo: two "sun dogs" and a partial 22-degree halo

The afternoon opening to Asia was very peculiar, as the first Japanese stations were heard from 1315 UTC, but nothing else from the Far East was available for hours. Instead, loads of Iranian stations appeared quite early. The strange Asian mix didn't bring about any rarities, but at the same time (after 1300 UTC) it was very enjoyable to listen to Alaskan and Hawaiian stations at good levels for a couple of hours. For example KCIK Kihei on 740 kHz had a fairly strong and stable signal. A new Hawaiian station is always a cause for celebration!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I packed my stuff overnight, and Jim drove me to the Ivalo airport in the morning. The following comments on propagation conditions are from Jim:

Thursday offered some decent North American signals, the highlights being KWRT Boonville, MO on 1370 kHz and KDCC Dodge City, KS on 1550 kHz. In the evening some common daytimers were observed between 2200-0000 UTC: WJML 1110, KKOJ 1190, WWSM 1510 and WIZZ 1520.

Friday, October 31 & Saturday, November 1, 2014

Both Friday and Saturday started with a nice opening to Venezuela and Ecuador. The signal from Radio Santiago, Guayaquil on 540 kHz was enjoyable, and also some more common stations from Ecuador were heard with strong signals, like Radio Sucre on 700 kHz and Radio Cristal on 870 kHz. On Friday evening the daytime opening was somewhat disappointing, even though KKOJ on 1190 kHz had again a decent signal around 2330 UTC.

Sajos
Sajos is a Sami cultural and administrative center, located in Inari. Sajos is also home to the Sami parliament

Once again Aihkiniemi offered a great getaway, and this time even a useful acclimatization before I headed to Antarctica. What more could I wish. Well, come to think of it, for starters I could take a one-year leave from my job to be able to review most of the recordings made up there.

You can read my travel blog from the Antarctic here. Sorry, but it's only available in Finnish. Google translate just might be able to make some sense of it. However, I promise to continue blogging in English from my upcoming DXpeditions, whenever the next one might be. And, did I already mention my tweets?

Published on December 6, 2014

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