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DXpedition to The Outer Banks of North Carolina
March 5-7, 2004

by John H. Bryant and Harold N. Cones

Harold Cones lives in Newport News, Virginia and vacations regularly on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which lay about 2 hours to his south. Given the success of other coastal sites for long distance reception on medium and shortwave (Nova Scotia, Maine and Mass. on the East Coast and Vancouver Island and Washington State in the west) in the past decade, Harold decided to use the occasion of John Bryant's visit to Virginia to test the suitability of the Outer Banks for similar activities.

A preliminary visit by Harold indicated few if any motels or rental properties where 500 to 2000 foot longwire antennas might be stretched between the structure and the Atlantic shoreline. Thus, we opted to concentrate on "12 volt DXing" from vehicles. Harold was able to identify several areas where a 500 to 1000 foot single Beverage antenna might be stretched for a single evening of DXing. He eventually located a site which would accommodate a fan of three antennas: 1000 feet Northeast to Europe, 500 feet East to the Mediterranean and 1000 feet SE to the Caribbean and South America from the eastern shore of Bodie Island, one of the northerly Outer Banks barrier islands.

Antenna directions from Bodie IslandMap of Bodie Island

Unfortunately, none of the locations that we identified are really useable during the rather lengthy tourist seasons on the Outer Banks. The population density of both year-round residents and “shoulder season” visitors was rather amazing to John Bryant, being used to the relatively unpopulated wilds of the Northwest Coast. Even in the early spring, visitors to the beaches were numerous enough to delay antenna installation until the last vestiges of daylight and to force the removal of all antennas at or soon after dawn, each day.

Daily Notes: Evening of Mar 4/5

Set up at the site for first time. 1000 feet NE (Europe), 500 feet E (Med. and Africa), 1000 feet SE (Carib. and SAm.) Harold Cones was using a NRD-525 receiver, operating on 12 vDC. John Bryant was using both a NRD-535 and a Ten Tec 320 computer-controlled receiver.

Bodie Island DXpedition siteDue to the unfamiliar new set-up and late arrival at the site, we missed the hour of pre-sunset DX. First tuned medium waves at about 2330, almost an hour... Some European signals were present, primarily on the mid and lower segments of the band. Higher frequency MW Trans-Atlantic signals were absent. Monitored MW and LW until about 0600 UTC. Long wave signal levels seemed quite good, though they, too, seemed to favor the Mediterranean area rather than more northerly transmitter sites.

The fair to good medium wave Trans-Atlantic signals were, with very few exceptions restricted to those from transmitter sites along the shores of the Mediterranean. France Inter Network, Toulouse, 945 kHz. was excellent, while the French stations on 1206 kHz. (F. Inter, Bordeaux) and 1377 (F. Inter, Lille) were poor to absent. Even the Spanish stations, prevalent at other East Coast locations were largely absent or in only as hets/threshold audio. A number of the Caribbean MW signals were at excellent levels on the SE wire. No real effort was made toward monitoring signals from South America. Reception of the morning sign-ons of a number of “nearby” West African MW stations was expected; careful monitoring was not rewarded as no signals were heard, even at sub-threshold levels.

Long wave was certainly more rewarding than medium wave.

Daily Notes: Evening of Mar 5/6

Arrived at the site earlier and accomplished the set-up much more efficiently. We were tuning the bands by 2239 UTC. Noted a sub-audible signal on 1521 for about 15 minutes; this was almost certainly the large transmitter in Saudi Arabia. Throughout the evening, other Trans-Atlantic MW signals were noted, but with the exception France Inter Bordeaux on 1206 even the audible signals were at threshold levels. Long wave and Caribbean signals continued to be good to excellent.

Daily Notes: Evening of Mar 6/7

Harold N. ConesSignals on the northerly routes to Europe had been absent both of the previous evenings, so we opted not to erect the NE Beverage. It had been a useless antenna for both of the previous sessions.
Again, we were able to begin listening soon after 2230, about 45 minutes before local sunset. Trans-Atlantic MW signals were even poorer than on the previous night. During the first three hours of the evening, no Trans-Atlantic MW signals were heard above threshold levels. Long wave continued to be full of signals. Those LW stations and the MW stations in the Caribbean were the only easily available targets. Bryant gave up in disgust and was bedded down in the back of his Toyota Matrix by 9PM. Harold Cones lasted about 2 hours longer, catching up on long wave and netting TRT Turkey on 180 kHz. See a full list of mediumwave and longwave stations in the DXpedition log.

Propagation

The propagation conditions encountered on our three day DXpedition seemed quite poor to us, at the time on medium wave, only moderately good on the shortwave bands. Thankfully, the reception conditions on long wave appeared to be excellent, with fairly predictable reception of most, if not all LW broadcast outlets from northern Africa, southern and central Europe.

Since we have returned, we’ve found several other sources of propagation data to illuminate what we experienced, at least a bit. First, Nick Hall-Patch has been running a continuous propagation monitoring project for several years now, automatically noting the strengths of Trans-Pacific medium wave signals very accurately each morning. He was kind enough to share the results of his monitoring for the relevant three mornings. His results for our first two nights indicate only fair strength on TP signals, but at least some presence of both high and low latitude paths (from his QTH of Victoria, BC to Japan/Korea and Down Under, respectively.) His results for Sunday AM, about 10 hours after our third evening DX session ended, indicated a significant opening in the higher MW frequencies on high latitude paths (as shown by 1566-Korea.) It is interesting to note that our only even partial reception of 1314-Norway was at the previous sunset. We may have noted the beginning of a high latitude opening.


Two sets of loggings have been published on-line that also bear on our experience. Martin Hall from Clashmore, Scotland reported that, between 0645 and 0900 on March 4, conditions were “not as good as yesterday – quite a lot of LA stations about, dominating, plus some Canadian Maritimes and the usual X-banders, but not a lot of note. Fairly unstable with signals up and down in strength.” He went on to log a number of Columbians, a Venezuelan, a Cuban and a Mexican station. His session ended about 14 hours before our first one started. It might be significant that Martin noted declining conditions and a southerly, low-latitude path, just as we did. (Our conditions on MW were southerly and went from bad to worst, literally.) Patrick Martin of Seaside, OR reported on his DX between 1400 and 1500 UTC, also on March 4, about 9 hours before we began. He found “A fair DU morning, but with a “twist,” a new one, 8RN-639-Katherine, NT popped in briefly at 1430 with an ID!… Nabbing my second NT catch was a thrill!” His six loggings in that hour were mostly DU “regulars,” with the addition of a possible 6WA-Wagin on 558. While we are deeply jealous of 8RN, otherwise, it was as Patrick stated, only a “fair” DU morning… again, a southerly, low-latitude route.

Unanswered Questions

John H. BryantIt is not really possible to assess the quality of MW propagation on the Outer Banks on the strength of one single testing session. Several other aspects of an overall assessment as a listening site are clear, however. Thanks to population pressures and quite narrow beaches, good listening sites on the northern half of the Banks are few and far between. It appears highly unlikely that a good site for the more relaxed “120 volt” style of DXing listening can be found at all.

From a propagational point of view, the first question has to be “Where were the Spanish stations?” The Great Circle route to Spain from the Cape Hatteras area essentially parallels our East Coast on a ENE path. Thus, the distance to Spain is considerably farther than it is from either Maine/Mass. or Nova Scotia. However, the signals seemed, intuitively, to be poorer than could be accounted for by the increased distance, especially when the French stations seemed more prominent than expected. Could it be that the Outer Banks are in the first or second “skip zone” of most of Spain, with signals skipping over and largely missing the area?

Obviously, if we are to really access the Outer Banks, such a unique geographic feature, as a radio monitoring site, we will have to make several more visits. It’s a nasty job, but someone really needs to do it.

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