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LEM214 DXpedition Report
October 29 - November 5, 2005

by Mika Mäkeläinen

We had sky-high expectations for this DXpedition as fellow hobbyists before us in October had experienced some of the best conditions of the decade. The 214th DXpedition to Lemmenjoki proved to be a success, although AM stations for example from New Zealand and Samoa remained unheard during this particular week. We both logged new countries, and enjoyed some really neat conditions to China, Cuba, Mexico and Oceania. Also some interesting new equipment was used for the first time.

Jim Solatie and I were in such a hurry to reach Lemmenjoki that instead of the usual train ride we drove all the way from Helsinki to Lapland - 1100 kilometers (680 miles) one way. The point was to be able to set up our gear early enough around midday Saturday so that we wouldn't miss the early hours of the afternoon. Prime time for DXing Oceania was predicted to be around 1000-1200 UTC, and this would be a major target area.

Mountain in Lemmenjoki
A scene from Lemmenjoki on the only sunny day of the week

Jim picked me up in Vantaa on Friday (Oct 28) morning at 9.30, and we managed to reach the ski resort of Levi at 11 p.m., staying overnight at Hotel Levitunturi. From there, we would only have some 160 kilometers left to Lemmenjoki. Our journey across the unseasonably warm Finland was supposed to be made smoother by exploring local culinary delights on the way, but the only experience Jim still remembered after a week of DXing was the overly peppered and therefore uneatable pasta he tried in Pulkkila, close to the geographical center of Finland. It must be added however that most often the problem is the lack of any spices. Anyhow, it was another average small community with average Finnish food, which was deservedly derided by Prime Ministers Jacques Chirac and Silvio Berlusconi last summer.

Where's all the snow?
Where's all the snow?

In Levi we did our own shopping which certainly wouldn't score any culinary points either, but at least it would be quick to prepare, which was the most important criteria during a week of intense DXing. Overnight the weather had turned nasty with constant rain and above-freezing temperatures making the last stretch really slippery, with water on ice nearly doubling our travel time. At least we didn't hit any reindeer, and spotted a moose crossing the road ahead of us at a safe distance.

Hannu Asikainen and Hannu Niilekselä, the previous pair of DXers, were already waiting in their car in Lemmenjoki and left as soon as we arrived at 11:45 a.m. on Saturday. This was a bad omen, as a fanatic DXer would never abandon his post earlier than necessary (12 noon) if there was even a remote chance to hear anything at all. Indeed, after a traditionally hectic hour of unpacking and setting up the equipment, it seemed that the AM dial was dead quiet. However, an hour later we caught some action from the North-Western corner of the US and some scattered East Asian stations.

Reindeer are not supposed to be dangerous...

Reception conditions changed radically during our stay. The first half of the week under quiet geomagnetic conditions offered nice reception of Mexico, Cuba, USA and Oceania, while reception to these areas was very limited after Wednesday (Nov. 2) when a coronal hole disrupted long-distance AM reception. Reception of Asian stations, and especially China, however remained very good on most days, even under the more disturbed conditions. Since there was something interesting taking place on the mediumwave dial most of the time, we hardly even turned to tropical shortwave, which was mostly dead anyway.

Here is a detailed look at the propagation conditions day-by-day:

Saturday, October 29:
Soon after our arrival US West Coast stations were heard at 1200-1400 UTC along with a couple of Hawaiian stations. As the Western stations faded out, East Coast Australian X-band stations were heard around 1500-1645, a relatively late timing. Radio 16 NTC from Canberra on 1647 kHz was one of the highlights. The first Brazilian AM stations surfaced at 2140 UTC and first US stations at 2230 UTC - early enough for daytimers, but we had no such luck.

Reindeer shit
... unless this is counted.

Sunday, October 30:
Sunday was overall a very good day. Overnight conditions offered stations from La Plata in South America and the Great Lakes in North America, but not much in between. This is very typical to Lapland. The peak DXing time to the Western hemisphere coincided, as usual, with daybreak, and at 0600-0700 UTC also some stations from the Caribbean were logged. At the same time, conditions within the US switched to the West Coast, again a very typical pattern. We caught some neat stations from the Rockies on the lower end of the AM dial, which rarely really opens up. The first Japanese stations showed up just before 1000 UTC, and an hour later Chinese stations were heard. At the same time Tahiti on 738 kHz appeared briefly, and conditions to Washington and Oregon continued unabatedly, making it difficult to choose which area to concentrate on. One of the most interesting catches was KXMG Portland OR on 1150 kHz, which was surprisingly strong, on par with KKNW Seattle WA. Generally conditions to Asia were average and ended early. In the evening, the first trans-Atlantic stations were heard around 2250 UTC.


Monday, October 31:
Overnight conditions weren't spectacular before a short peak to Chile around 0300 UTC. Sunrise was again the most hectic time of the day. Stations from Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil peaked at 0630-0650 UTC before disappearing and making room for Madeira (on an easily recognizable split frequency of 1529.87 kHz) and Cuba, which offered a bunch of stations in the lower end of the dial. Again on Monday the first Japanese stations appeared just in time for the 0950 UTC NHK1 regional break, and we netted for example JOPG Kushiro on 585 kHz. Soon Chinese stations appeared on dozens of frequencies, while West Coast US was audible until around 1400 UTC. Local transmissions from Iran were hunted until 1630 UTC, when all stations returned to national programming. In the evening we saw beautiful northern lights across the sky, and the Boston superpower station WWZN on 1510 kHz made a brief appearance already at 1854 UTC, which was truly amazing. Much later, the first US stations appeared just before 2300 UTC, giving a sharp and brief opening to Tennessee, including one daytimer (WHEW Franklin TN 1380 kHz).

Jim Solatie
Jim Solatie

Tuesday, November 1:
Trans-Atlantic signals disappeared soon after midnight, leaving hardly anything interesting on the AM band. Again, however, daybreak brought excellent conditions to Cuba (for example Radio Sancti Spíritus on 1200 kHz), and we were also lucky to hear the sign-off announcement of KUAU Haiku HI (1570 kHz) at 0800 UTC. Around 0900-1030 UTC we were out fixing antennas, which in hindsight was just about the worst possible timing, because exactly at that time fellow DXers in Parkalompolo in Northern Sweden captured some really rare Hawaiian stations. Anyhow, also the rest of Tuesday was really good in terms of Oceania, with Fiji heard on several frequencies (639, 1152 and 1467 kHz) and Tonga with good reception quality until close-down at 1105 UTC. Japanese stations surfaced around 1145 UTC, an hour later than on Monday, just as the NHK1 regional broadcast was about to begin. Mediocre reception of US West Coast stations continued at the same time. After 1200 UTC some Philippine stations and X-band Australians joined the crowd, overwhelming our capacity to monitor everything at the same time. As the afternoon progressed, Chinese stations became stronger, and were reported all the way from 1200 to 1600 UTC, completing one of our best Asian afternoons ever. In the evening, the first Brazilians were noted already at 2100 UTC, but still conditions to South America didn't rise above average.

Winradio G313e
Winradio G313e

Wednesday, November 2:
After a poor to mediocre overnight, 0600-1200 UTC turned out to be a great opening to the Western hemisphere. First Cuba was audible, followed soon by a couple of Texan stations and especially Mexicans (such as XECH Toluca ME 1040 kHz, XETOT Tampico TM 1190 kHz and XEWE Irapuato GJ 1420 kHz). Mexicans seemed to pop up all over the dial, especially from around the capital Mexico City. In the midst of all this, Kiribati (846 kHz) was noted for the first time in Finland when it closed down at 1003 UTC. North America vanished by 1400 UTC, and Asia was non-existent for a change. In the evening, WWKB Buffalo NY 1520 kHz was heard at 2200 UTC, but conditions remained mediocre, and stations soon faded out with only a few South American remaining on the dial.

Thursday, November 3:
When we woke up at 0550 UTC, nothing was heard from across the Atlantic. This was a stark contrast to the earlier half of the DXpedition, but was not unexpected, as the radio silence was a result of a coronal hole and arrived as predicted. In a way the lull in conditions was welcome as it gave us ample time to work on the antennas, some of which were more or less shredded by ongoing timber work in the surrounding forest. In the end Asia saved the day; first a few Japanese stations were heard, followed by a barrage of Chinese stations at 1200-1600 UTC.

Mika Mäkeläinen
Mika Mäkeläinen

Friday, November 4:
As a sign of disturbed conditions, Ikwekwezi FM from South Africa was logged overnight on 1098 kHz. A few stations were heard from southern South America in the wee hours, but again nothing from the Western hemisphere around daybreak. The afternoon offered a decent selection of Japanese and Chinese stations, making this an exceptionally productive DXpedition as far as Asian stations are concerned. Surprisingly, a couple of Hawaiian stations were noted in the late afternoon (including KHBC Hilo on 1060 kHz).

Saturday, November 5:
Just as on the previous nights, a fair selection of stations from the southern half of South America made its way to Lemmenjoki. A surprising exception was picking up Mexican XEHI Cd. Miguel Alemán TM on 1470 kHz, while nothing else from anywhere near was noted. Just before 0600 UTC, US stations made a brief appearance, but soon the AM dial was completely empty. We started packing a couple of hours earlier than planned as it was evident that nothing more could be expected.

Space weather indices:

Date Solar flux Sunspot number Planetary A index K indices (3-hour intervals) Min-max solar wind speed (km/sec) Number of flares (events)
STAR SEC STAR SEC Daily low - high Planetary Boulder C M X
29.10.2005 74.1 14 11 2.3 2 0-5 10100101 10201111 341-375      
30.10.2005 75.6 16 14 4.8 5 2-9 22001012 21012311 314-357      
31.10.2005 77.8 33 29 13.9 13 3-32 11123434 12133424 333-382      
1.11.2005 77.3 32 33 7.9 8 0-15 32032311 32023322 308-369      
2.11.2005 78.0 31 36 6.0 6 0-18 11000133 12002233 319-579      
3.11.2005 76.8 0 24 23.5 24 12-56 35343434 35344434 568-657      
4.11.2005 77.4 14 22 19.8 20 7-32 44333342 55434342 590-714      
5.11.2005 79.3 35 18 10.0 10 3-27 23412212 23433322 579-756      

(information collected by Jan Alvestad)

Several pieces of new hardware and software were tested on LEM214. For the first time Mika dragged his laptop computer to Lemmenjoki to be able to use Winradio G313e. A review of the receiver can be found as a separate article. Also, we had an enhanced version of Geoclock with all the locations of North American AM stations, programmed by Tapio Kalmi, which was really nice in assessing changing conditions. I can imagine it would have been even more useful if we had had any real conditions to catch daytimers, to determine the ideal time to listen to each station. Antenna switchboxes made by Roland Sandberg and Stefan Wikander proved to work well when we tried to take full advantage of the huge amount of antennas (a total of 15 beverage and longwire antennas). As far as receivers go, we mostly relied on our traditional array of JRC NRD-535 and NRD-545 receivers.

Geoclock close-up
Geoclock (1716 UTC on Nov 4) shows that it is time to get 3-4 hours of sleep before hunting American stations.

Weatherwise Lemmenjoki didn't resemble any winter wonderland. Whatever was left of the 30 cm (1 ft) of snow that arrived in October melted away during our stay. Daytime highs and mostly even nighttime lows were well above freezing point, so staying warm was not an issue - but rain was. We weren't prepared to work on the antennas soaking wet.

Once again we got ample media attention, this time from the local news media. We accidentally ran into a YLE crew when shopping in Inari during the week. Both the YLE local radio station and the community newspaper Inarilainen interviewed me. The YLE interview was primarily for the Sami audience, so the interviewer, herself a native Sami speaker, translated all of my comments to Sami. It was a humbling experience to realize that I don't have a clue of what is being said even though this is a language spoken in Finland.

wet boots
Trying to dry our boots without melting them...

As we left earlier than usually, we didn't get to see the incoming DXers, Jari and Jussi Korhonen, but learned later that they arrived safely. On Saturday we drove down to Levi, enjoyed the luxuries of returning to civilization in the form of a nice meal and massage, and took the train ride back south. It would have been too risky to drive down, tired as we were after a week of sleep deprivation.

LEM214 was definitely one of the most successful DXpeditions either one of us has ever had. For details on the catches, check out the LEM214 DXpedition Log. It may also be interesting to compare what DXpeditionists in Parkalompolo in Northern Sweden heard at the same time. I just wonder how many months it will take to review the hundreds of hours of recordings that we amassed. At least it will give many opportunities to relive those memorable days in Lapland.

Published on November 11, 2005 (slightly edited later)

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