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LEM206 DXpedition Report
January 8-15, 2005

by Mika Mäkeläinen

This is a warning: DXing is addictive, and going on DXpeditions even more so. One week a year in Lapland wasn't enough, so I and Håkan Sundman headed for a second week of intense DXing in the Arctic. Solar activity rose to surprisingly high levels, but fortunately it didn't seem to affect propagation conditions too much. We were able to listen to North American stations through the entire week, and are quite happy with the results, although we didn't get any really sensational rarities.

Voyager
Let's see - what more can we fit in? (Photo by Håkan Sundman)

Though both of us are regular visitors to Lemmenjoki, this was the first time in nearly a decade that we happened to be there at the same time (see LEM85 report on our previous DXpedition together). Sharing a ride was easy, as we both live 11-13 kilometers east of downtown Helsinki. On Friday afternoon I packed my stuff in my wife's Chrysler Voyager, which I thought would be big enough for our record amount of equipment, and headed over to Håkan's home to fill whatever empty space the minivan still had.

We had voted for comfort, and instead of driving, would take our vehicle north by train. As we arrived at the Helsinki railway station, I was in for a surprise. I was told that the Voyager tends to accumulate snow in the engine compartment. It should be loaded the rear end facing the wind, so it had to be backed up all the way over the railroad cars until the last car, where we parked. With perhaps a foot of leeway on both sides I was lucky not to scratch the vehicle.

Changing Seasons

We still had time for dinner at an Indian restaurant near the railway station before the whistle blew at 6.56 p.m. A feeling of relief and anxious anticipation filled our minds as we began our journey from the grim, rainy and unseasonally warm capital to Lapland, where winters are still what they are supposed to be; below-freezing temperatures and snow - a lot of it, as we were to discover.

On the road
Lemmenjoki here we come

We arrived in Kolari almost in time, and manouvered the Voyager out intact. As customary, we first drove up to Kittilä to eat and to stock for groceries and gas before heading out to the wilderness. Outgoing DXpeditionists Jari Ruohomäki (JPR) and Jim Solatie (JMS) had quite good conditions nearly all the time. We ran into Jim on the road in the middle of nowhere as he had a train to catch, while Jari was still in Lemmenjoki when we arrived there. It took about an hour to unload all the stuff, arrange the equipment and start listening. Our equipment included an array of JRC's communications receivers (models NRD-525, 535 and 545), recorders (mostly Sony minidisc) and the usual beverage antennas, each about 1 kilometer in length.

I Wish They All Could be California

Conditions to the U.S. West Coast were quite good. Within a minute the first new station was identified, KCTC Sacramento CA on 1320 kHz at 1334 UTC. Later that afternoon Håkan even identified KXRO Aberdeen WA there. 1320 kHz is an exceptionally tough frequency because of a superpower Norwegian on 1314 kHz and the 1320 kHz dominant, CHMB Vancouver BC. West Coast stations were heard until around 1510 UTC, which was unusually late.

Cabin
Our home away from home (Photo by Håkan Sundman)

Saturday afternoon proved to be indicative of the conditions to come. We were able to enjoy North American stations every day of the week with varying conditions. A normal pattern was that American signals would surface around midnight UTC, perhaps making a brief and weak appearance even around 2200-2300, but never early enough for daytimers to be heard. We had a constant watch though. Nighttime conditions would be general in nature, with stations from Newfoundland to New England, Ontario and the Great Lakes, sometimes as far as Missouri and Kansas. This would continue for a couple of hours until the signals started to fade out, allowing us to sleep for a couple of hours before waking up before dawn for the best DX session of the day.

From Sea to Shining Sea

Prime time for DXing was from 0600 UTC to around 0900 UTC, when North American and Mexican stations would be heard best. Usually conditions in the very beginning favored the East Coast or the Great Lakes, after which there was a rapid shift to the West Coast, and whatever conditions there would be at any other time of the rest of the day, only stations from the Rockies or the West Coast would be heard. Unfortunately there were quite a lot of Canadian stations in the mix. Canadians, especially from Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, tend to dominate the frequencies they operate on, making it difficult to dig anything new underneath. On several days there was somewhat of a peak of West Coast stations in the early afternoon, but never as late as immediately after our arrival.

Håkan Sundman
Håkan Sundman (HS)

Apart from an overdose of Canadians, another handicap was that there was never really a clear focus, but conditions favored very large areas, sometimes even coast to coast, which resulted in the usual suspects dominating the dial. Mexican stations are always a real pleasure to listen to, and a pretty good opening to Mexico was noted on Tuesday, January 11, at 0645-0845 UTC. The best catches were XEDRD Durango DG (820 kHz) and XEGYS Guaymas SO (1040 kHz).

Especially in retrospect, the best afternoon for U.S. West Coast proved to be Tuesday, January 11, when we caught KPAM Troutdale OR (860 kHz), KZNY Milwaukie OR (1010 kHz), KMAS Shelton WA (1030 kHz) and KWDB Oak Harbor WA (1110 kHz), all within 30 minutes! One more neat catch from the U.S. was KBIV El Paso TX (1650 kHz) on January 10, previously unheard in Finland. Just before our departure it seemed that conditions to North America were falling rapidly, and hardly anything was heard on the morning of Saturday, January 15.

15 Minutes of Fame

Further south, stations from the Caribbean were not heard, which was a bit disappointing. Likewise, conditions to South America were well below average all the time. Colombia and Venezuela were absent, and only a few Brazilian and Argentinian stations were heard. We noticed really only one good peak in the conditions which lasted for about 15-20 minutes. This 15 minutes of Lapland fame took place on Wednesday, December 12, at 0230 UTC. It was part of a very interesting and rapid movement in conditions. First there were the regular U.S. Great Lakes stations, which vanished around 0215 UTC. For a moment nothing, then Southern South America (including Radio Murialdo on 1290 kHz and Radio Nacional, Rosario, on 1300.23 kHz) came strong for a while until they also disappeared, giving way to U.S. West Coast stations at 0250 UTC, and finally Alberta stations strong at 0315 UTC. It was quite a challenge to try to keep up with the conditions, constantly switching antennas and browsing the dial.

Roadside scenery
Arctic beauty (Photo by Håkan Sundman)

An interesting window of opportunity took place on 1440 kHz, when Luxembourg had a break at 0000-0030 UTC, allowing trans-Atlantic signals through. However, this lasted only for a few days, and we didn't catch anything spectacular. In the wee hours of the morning Luxembourg uses DRM, effectively blocking the channel for any other stations.

Conditions to Asia were no match to North America, but afternoons around 1300-1600 UTC were mostly spent on chasing mediumwave signals from the East. Japanese stations were heard only very seldom, Chinese much more often, and South Asian countries quite regularly. However, again the problem was that conditions covered such a wide area that the regular powerhouses normally dominated the dial, and it was pretty easy to predict what could be heard.

Perhaps the most interesting observation from Asia was how well some Chinese stations from the Western provinces were heard around sunrise in China. Although I have heard them many times before, they have never before been as strong as on Thursday, January 13, when Chinese was heard on a couple of frequencies even after 0200 UTC, which is after sunrise in Western China. The best catches from Western China were Urumqi News Channel, Urumqi XJ (792 kHz) and Xining PBS, Xining QH (1476 kHz), both probably previously unheard in Europe.

Mika Makelainen
Mika Mäkeläinen (Photo by Håkan Sundman)

Australia and Oceania offered a few really nice surprises. We had a beverage antenna pointing at 30 degrees, optimized for the coveted island nations of the Pacific. We managed to hear Marshall Islands (1098 kHz) and Tonga (1017 kHz) around midday on Monday, January 10. Another antenna pointing at 55 degrees gave us a few Australian X-band stations right after our arrival on Saturday, and again on Tuesday, January 11. These were heard well after dark.

With relatively good conditions elsewhere, we didn't have much time for Europe, Africa or the Middle East. Spanish stations were hunted during local breaks, but nothing spectacular was netted. The best morning was Thursday, January 13, when conditions surprisingly favored the Eastern part of Spain for a moment.

Greenland on Shortwave

There are only relatively few active shortwave stations that we still haven't identified, so shortwave was not a major target, and neither was it very practical, as much of the time the tropical bands were completely dead. However, one very interesting station was heard; Kalaallit Nunaata Radioa (KNR) from Tasiilaq, Greenland, was picked up on 3815 kHz USB. This was presumably the first time that the station had been heard outside Greenland.

Sunset
Sunset in Lapland (Photo by Håkan Sundman)

As DXing was pretty successful, we minimized the time spent on everything else. The regular DXpedition routine developed quickly. We normally slept for a few hours in the evening around 1700-2100 UTC, and a little more in the early morning around 0300-0530 UTC, taking turns in keeping an eye on the conditions. The better the conditions were, the worse sleep deprivation we developed... cooking was basic, mostly preparing sandwiches in a hurry and heating meals in a microwave oven.

Weatherwise it was mild for January, ranging from -30 to -10 Celsius (-22 to 14 F), exactly the same as a month earlier. We did get a lot of snow though, originating from the fringes of the fierce storms that ravaged further south in Scandinavia during the week. Snow caused some problems because we needed to take down a couple of antennas as part of preparations to end the DX season. Jim and Jari had asked the locals to use snow mobiles to make paths along the antennas in the knee-deep snow, but because of the storms, not much was left.

But for us, space weather was more important than temperature readings outside our cabin. The week was rather bumpy with pretty high levels of the A-index and the solar flux, but surprisingly it didn't seem to have much of an adverse effect on the conditions before a major deterioration on the day of departure, January 15. This table lists the most important indices during our DXpedition:

Date Solar flux Sunspot number Planetary A index Min-max solar wind speed (km/sec) Number of flares (events)
STAR SEC STAR SEC Daily low - high C M X
8.1.2005 88.5 17 34 29.5 30 7-80 445-666 1    
9.1.2005 87.5 17 28 4.0 4 0-12 443-536 1 1  
10.1.2005 90.1 30 40 5.8 6 3-9 370-545 1    
11.1.2005 94.2 54 25 14.0 14 5-27 388-464 2    
12.1.2005 102.1 57 58 30.3 30 15-56 417-769      
13.1.2005 115.6 113 77 13.0 13 7-27 609-839 9    
14.1.2005 129.8 103 65 11.6 12 4-27 532-757 28 5  
15.1.2005 144.9 110 100 22.5 22 6-67 527-706 17 7 2
(information collected by Jan Alvestad)

All in all a successful week, although it will take weeks and months to uncover exactly what stations we heard as the amount of recordings grew bigger than ever before. Therefore our DXpedition log (with a few sound bites) at the time of publishing is only preliminary, and you should recheck it later in the year to get a complete picture. It can be useful to read also the notes, which explain some basics.

Returning to Kittila
Heading home

We unplugged our receivers after 0800 UTC on Saturday, because nothing much was heard on the dial. The last DXpeditionists of the season, Martti Karimies (MKA) and Jari Sinisalo (JSN), arrived around midday, armed with a respectable collection of vintage wine and other culinary delights to keep them busy and happy under potentially lousy reception conditions.

We drove down in beautiful crispy weather, and saw the first rays of the sun in a week as we approached Kittilä. After a restaurant pit stop we made it in time for the train, departing from Kolari at 6.50 p.m. local time, and arriving in Helsinki on time, at 7.48 a.m. on Sunday morning. This time the Voyager engine compartment was loaded with snow, although reverse driving had been practised once again. After the engine had been heated and the driver cooled down over breakfast, we were able to head home in the capital, which was just as dark, rainy and murky as one week earlier. Ideal conditions for staying inside and continuing the DXpedition by reviewing our neverending minidisc recordings...

Published on January 20, 2005, slight editing later

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