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LEM144 DXpedition Report

December 2-10, 2000

by Mika Mäkeläinen

The highlight of the DX-year: a trip to Lapland in search of tiny, remote, unknown broadcasting stations... However, under conditions of high solar activity (and lower media activity than on LEM132 in 1999) we didn't hold very high expectations of this DXpedition to the Arctic DXing paradise.

Kolari railway station
Kolari railway station

We figured that timing the DXpedition near the darkest time of the year should nevertheless provide an almost 24-hour flow of radio stations from at least some direction no matter how turbulent the conditions would be.

This proved to be the case towards the end of the DXpedition as conditions improved gradually over the week, but in the beginning midday was a dead period in terms of acvitity on the dial. Overall we were satisfied with the results. Even though we caught only few stations from North America, we did have some nice openings to other continents.

Tieva bar in the village of Pokka
Tieva bar in the village of Pokka

We, Jim Solatie and Mika Mäkeläinen, set off to Lemmenjoki on Friday evening December 1st at the Helsinki railway station, taking the overnight train to Kolari, the northernmost railway station in the country.

Jim drove his Honda on the train, and just before departure we met at McDonalds for the last hamburger in over than a week. More than the rattling of the train, excitement over the upcoming week kept us awake part of the following night.

After arrival, just like the year before, we stocked groceries and enjoyed a pizza in nearby Kittilä. At these latitutes, my favorite is the local reindeer pizza.

After passing the Tieva bar in the village of Pokka, we were again on our own as far as cooking goes, which in theory would have been an ideal chance to lose a few kilos. However, as my daily bread was the self-designed graveyarder sandwich - consisting of salami, onion and a lot of cheese on rye bread - the much-needed calory deprivation remained an even more elusive goal than good propagation conditions.

Asians heard on arrival

Lemmenjoki here we come!
Lemmenjoki here we come!

We arrived in Lemmenjoki before 2 p.m. local time on Saturday December 2nd. The previous DXpeditionists, Jyrki Hytönen and Markus Salonen on LEM143, had left a few hours earlier after a week of poor reception conditions.

As the antennae were already up, it didn't take more than an hour to set up our gear and start scanning the dial. Transatlantic signals were non-existent, which wasn't much of a surprise, as LEM143 hadn't identified a single U.S. station during the entire week.

LEM144 was the 6th DXpedition of the season to Lemmenjoki. This year antennae remained the same as before. More on our equipment here.

A few Asian stations were audible immediately as we switched our radios on. Just like the previous year, we expected good catches from South-East Asia, which should not be so severely affected by geomagnetic instability - and many of our best catches were indeed from Asia.

A typical scene at "daylight"
A typical scene at "daylight". Yes, there's a road somewhere in the middle.

During the first few days Asian AM stations faded in rather late, around 1200-1300 UTC, and very soon stations from India, Iran and the Middle East - and even Europeans - overpowered any Far-East signals. Exceptions were the upper band powerhouses; China on 1593 kHz, Thailand on 1575 kHz, South Korea on 1566 kHz and Taiwan on 1557 kHz, as well as other powerful Taiwanese stations, which came loud and clear for hours nearly every day.

On Monday Dec. 4th during otherwise lousy conditions I picked up Radio Pakistan on 1260 kHz, unlisted and previously unheard in Finland. On Tuesday Dec. 5th conditions to India were excellent with AIR stations dominating on 1602 kHz for 2,5 hours, something I had never experienced before. The same evening stations from the Far East made a surprising comeback after 1800 UTC, and I was able to identify for example DZXL under a 50-kilowatt Finnish station on 558 kHz.

Mika on the hunt
Mika on the hunt

On Wednesday Dec. 6th Malaysia surfaced on 1475 kHz around 1125 UTC, so I knew to hunt for Australian X-band stations, and eventually heard a few - the first time ever for me.

On Thursday, some Chinese stations were very briefly audible around 0930 UTC, but disappeared soon - until some Philippino stations were heard after 1130 UTC. Conditions improved gradually, and on Friday Dec. 8th Chinese stations came through already before 1100 UTC. Finally on Saturday December 9th we heard our first Japanese stations already after 1000 UTC, and this became our most rewarding afternoon with several interesting Japanese, Chinese and Philippino stations logged.

Romania and Ramadan

Turning to our own continent, we tried to find new stations especially from the Balkans. On Sunday, Dec. 3rd, Jim heard an interesting station on a variable frequency around 1605 kHz. I reported it on Monday. At the time we thought the ID sounded like "Radio Sudet", but it proved to be Radio Sud Est from Slobozia in Romania, a totally unknown station among hobbyists and definitely one of the highlights of the DXpedition. On Monday, Dec. 4th, we picked up Radio Berovo from Macedonia on 1485 kHz, another top class logging from the region. Local breaks yielded a few catches from Spain, Italy and Greece, but otherwise we didn't have much interest in Europe.

Too hot for Jim inside
Remember the -52 degrees? Naturally it was too hot for Jim inside...

While Ramadan had filled the wee-hours with stations from Iran, the Middle East and even North Africa, it seemed to have an adverse effect on their habits of identifying, and especially local station identifications were few. From the rest of Africa, only the Canary Islands are worth mentioning, as we noted a very short and sharp peak to the area at 0655 UTC on two mornings. It was also the only time to hear stations from Morocco and Portugal.

Moving over to the Americas, North American stations made only a brief appearance daily around 0700-0800 UTC. On Sunday, December 10th, U.S. stations remained on the dial when we pulled the plugs at 1006 UTC, so it seems that conditions were definitely improving just as we had to leave. Typical luck.

Haute cuisine
Haute cuisine

We heard nothing worth mentioning from Central America, but fortunately conditions to South America were somewhat better than on our DXpeditions during the past few years. During the first half only the most common Brazilians were heard during the night, but on the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 6th, a few Venezuelans and Colombians were identified. On Friday and Saturday conditions to the La Plata region improved, and some stations from that general area were audible all the way until 0730 UTC. Then on Saturday after 0030 UTC stations from Argentina and Uruguay came very well, and we were especially pleased to hear other X-band stations aside from 1620 and 1630, which are relatively common. A special case was Radio Boanerges from Posadas on 1640 kHz, which had never before been detected by DXers anywhere, not even in Argentina.

It should also be noted that very often under disturbed conditions shortwave reception in Lemmenjoki is close to impossible, but this time we were able to listen to some tropical band stations from Latin America, Asia and Papua New Guinea with surprisingly strong signals, so in daytime much of our time was spent on the shortwave band.

From sleet to freeze

At this time of the year Lapland should already rest under thick snow, but on arrival the ground was barely covered. This made checking the antennae easier than ever before in mid-winter. For the rest of the week the weather remained moderate, with occasional rain and snowshowers, and temperatures from above freezing point down to -23 degrees Celsius or -10 degrees Fahrenheit. One evening, under clear skies (an exception), we witnessed very beautiful northern lights in rapid movement and changing colors. With propagation conditions already less than ideal, this magnetic performance didn't seem to have any effect on the dial.

Reindeer as visitors see them
Reindeer as visitors see them

We weren't able to get return train tickets for Saturday as planned, so we decided to extend the DXpedition for one day, after which Alpo Heinonen arrived in Lemmenjoki to take over for the next week.

Returning to the McWorld on Sunday afternoon, we had a snack at the northernmost McDonald's in the world, in the town of Rovaniemi on the Arctic Circle, and took the overnight train back south.

Reindeer as locals see them
Reindeer as locals see them

So when exactly did we sleep? Often we hit the sack around 1800-1900 UTC sleeping until at least either one woke up around 2300 UTC. If the night was poor, we took turns in scouting the dial. Most nights both were able to sleep again at roughly 0300-0500 UTC without missing anything. Periods at 0600-0800 (for the Western hemisphere) and 1200-1400 UTC (for the Eastern hemisphere) were the most intense DXing sessions.

Finally, for details on the identified stations, here's the LEM144 DXpedition log. I hope that our practise of sharing the catch by publishing our findings before sending out reception reports would encourage others to do the same. For some logging guidelines, check out notes on the log. Initially only Mika's loggings were included, and Jim's stations were added a week later.

Posted on December 17th 2000, last edited on December 27th 2001

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