LEM220 DXpedition to Lemmenjoki
December 29, 2005 - January
the first time that I spent the New Year DXing -
perhaps not the smartest way to celebrate New Year.
And propagation conditions were lousy. Anyhow, persistence
paid off, as conditions improved gradually towards
the end of the DXpedition. North America and Latin
America eventually yielded stations relatively well,
but we heard hardly anything from the Eastern hemisphere.
In terms of equipment, software-defined receiver
SDR-14 was used for the first time and was found
to perform well in DXpedition use.
I woke up at 7.45 in the morning
local time on Thursday when it was still pitch dark
in Vantaa on the southern coast. An hour later at
8.40 a.m. my wife's Voyager was packed and ready
for the voyage of 1100 kilometers (700 miles) up
north. The idea was to be able to drive as much
as possible in daylight, which at this time of the
year is a scarce resource. It got dark before Oulu,
less than half way north. Driving conditions however
were decent, and after service stops in Jyväskylä
and Rovaniemi, I arrived in Lemmenjoki
- without knocking down any reindeer - at 12:20
a.m. on Friday, December 30.
As light as it gets this time of the year
Jari Ruohomäki, who lives
in Oulu, had arrived already on Wednesday afternoon.
His diet for the first 36 hours had consisted mostly
of Latin American stations, his speciality.
After a Christmas break it was
unclear how much the antennas had suffered from
heavy snowfall during the previous couple of weeks.
A huge amount of snow had accumulated on trees,
bending some birches almost 180 degrees, now pointing
down to the ground. The antennas had however survived
amazingly well, and we only had to free the wires
of accumulated snow. Wandering in the forest was
starting to become a bit cumbersome, as there was
about 40 cm of snow.
The weather was brisk, but bearable,
with temperatures down to -25 Celsius (-13 F) during
daytime at worst, and down to -35 C at night. The
cold weather also revealed some electrical interference
on the AM band, presumably caused by a faulty transformer
in the neighborhood, but as soon as the local energy
company Inergia sent men to investigate, the weather
of course improved, and they were unable to trace
the cause of the interference.
An impedance matching transformer between a
coax feed and a beverage antenna
Although conditions were not
spectacular, there was enough activity on the dial
to keep us busy most of the time. Overnight the
emphasis was on South America, and from daybreak
(though daybreak is a bit relative as the
sun actually rises above the horizon only much later
in January when kaamos, the polar night,
ends) around 0700 UTC we would listen to North American
stations as long as there was anything to listen
to. For me it was very disappointing that conditions
to Far East Asia were poor nearly every afternoon.
We normally slept around 1700-2100 UTC and again
in the early morning around 0300-0530 UTC.
For a list of stations heard,
check out the LEM220 DXpedition
Log. A parallel DXpedition report from Parkalompolo
(MS Word format), Sweden, is also available. Here
is a detailed look at the propagation conditions:
Thursday, December 29:
Starting midnight UTC Jari picked up decent
signals from Brazil, with some stations also from
Argentina, Uruguay and Chile all the way until 0500
UTC (some of the best catches being Radio La Amistad
from Chile on 1400 kHz and Radio Folclorísimo
from Argentina 1410 kHz). In the morning Canadians
dominated over US stations, while not much else
was heard during the daytime.
Our listening post loaded with receivers, recorders
and other equipment
Friday, December 30:
Some Brazilians and other stations from the
Southern part of South America were logged as soon
as Mika got his gear in order around 0100 UTC (among
the best catches was Radio Regional from Argentina
on 1550 kHz). Hardly anything was audible from across
the Atlantic around 0400-0700 UTC, after which US
West Coast stations were heard in the upper end
of the dial. Conditions were not exceptionally good,
but we caught a couple of Californians (for example
KHTS Canyon Country on 1220 kHz and KTKZ Sacramento
on 1380 kHz) as well as stations from Washington
later in the afternoon. US stations vanished after
1500 UTC, when we both nailed KWDB Oak Harbor WA
on 1110 kHz after years of trying. Nothing from
Asia aside from a few common Middle East stations.
Saturday, December 31:
The low point of the DXpedition. Overnight was
poor with only a few weak signals from South America.
Daytime was equally lousy, as both US stations and
Asians were almost completely absent, so we mostly
worked on the antennas and hoped for a better New
Staring into emptiness after staying awake day
Sunday, January 1:
2006 began with only the common Europeans dominating
the AM dial. At 0115 UTC Brazilian stations came
relatively well especially in the upper end of the
dial. This continued for a few hours, until both
the signals and we began to pass out around 0400
UTC. US stations (briefly along with a few Brazilians)
were heard again from 0700 to 0900 UTC, when conditions
deteriorated, and only a handful of the strongest
US West Coast stations remained. So again we had
ample time for sleeping and checking the antennas.
In the afternoon, nothing much was heard from anywhere.
European stations were really strong, with the first
Spanish stations showing up already at 1330 UTC
- of course on a day when there were no local breaks
to listen to.
Monday, January 2:
Conditions began to improve, finally. The first
US stations were heard already at 2115 UTC on Sunday
evening, kicking off a 17-hour marathon DX session.
In the evening, several stations became audible
before their local sunset and a few continued past
local sunrise, notably KWMG Auburn WA on 1210 kHz,
which was identified first at 2320 UTC and last
at 1659 UTC! After a lull before daybreak, we stayed
put on trans-Atlantic frequencies until late afternoon,
when Fiji (a new country for Jari) was heard on
1467 kHz. The last identified station was KELA Centralia
WA on 1470 kHz at 1700 UTC, really late in the evening.
At the same time Alaskan stations were heard with
strong signals. Also CBC North was heard still at
1700 UTC on 1230 kHz, at the same time as CBC Iqaluit
NU was already heard on the same frequency - so
North American stations were literally heard around
the clock. Conditions however didn't favor any specific
region, which made it very difficult to find new
stations. A few Japanese and other East Asian stations
were heard briefly with decent signal levels around
1100 UTC, but very soon Europeans reoccupied the
Not the best of conditions...
Tuesday, January 3:
Because of the exceptional reception conditions
of Monday evening, expectations for the night grew
sky-high, but it turned out to be another mediocre
night, with a bunch of weak stations mostly from
the southern part of South America, including Radio
San Carlos from Uruguay on 1510 kHz. Some US West
Coast stations became audible around 0300 UTC, but
generally overnight conditions favored the southern
part of South America. After daybreak around 0700
UTC US East Coast stations were heard, while West
Coast stations joined the crowd a couple of hours
later. Again conditions were pretty general in nature,
but it was nice to hear the AM band open up all
the way to the lower end of the AM dial, even if
only for a short time in the morning. At 1300 UTC
the DXing day culminated with the logging of a few
Mexican stations as the sun was rising in Mexico.
The best logging was probably XETKR Monterrey NL
on 1480 kHz. As usual, nothing much from Asia.
Wednesday, January 4:
Around 2300 UTC on Tuesday stations from the
Americas started invading the dial. For the first
time during our DXpedition we caught more than a
couple of stations from Venezuela and Colombia.
Bermuda was heard with BBC programming on 1160 kHz,
along with the most common Puerto Rican stations.
Overnight only a few US stations from the East Coast
and Great Lakes were audible, but in the morning
after 0700 UTC stations from all over the Americas
were heard. For us this was a bit of a problem,
because all frequencies tended to be occupied by
the usual suspects, mostly from the Great Lakes
area. However, a few decent catches were made before
US stations vanished around 1300 UTC, very early
in comparison with the beginning of the DXpedition.
Once again only the most common Asian AM stations
were heard in the afternoon, which was a disappointment.
Thursday, January 5:
For once I decided not to keep a constant watch
on the dial late Wednesday evening, and of course
it was a mistake. A check at 2115 UTC turned out
nothing, but we woke up again at 2230 UTC to find
US stations in full swing. They continued for about
an hour, leaving a slice of Easternmost stations
on the dial throughout the night. However, a very
pleasant surprise was to find the AM band filling
with stations from the Northern half of South America,
mostly from Venezuela, and continuing all the way
until dawn. Our best catches from this excellent
DX session include Peruvian Radio Lider, Arequipa
(1240 kHz). In the morning at 0700 UTC, when all
stations should have been booming in, the AM onslaught
began to lose steam, though a few stations from
Southern California strengthened and remained on
the dial past midday, bringing some nice catches,
especially KPRL Paso Robles (1230 kHz). The Great
Lakes region improved again after 1100 UTC, and
vanished well before sunrise, around 1230 UTC. Only
some weak signals from the West Coast remained,
while Asian stations continued to evade our receivers.
Overall this was the best day so far, and signals
were generally very strong - to the extent that
instead of pre-amplifiers, nearly all the time I
had to use attenuators with the software-controlled
SDR-14 is just a small box, operated through
a software interface
Friday, January 6:
The first Brazilians surfaced from noise at
2145 UTC, and the first US station was WWKB (1520
kHz) at 2205 UTC. Later other South American countries
became audible. Conditions however remained below
average until around 0330 UTC, when Argentinean
stations began gaining strength; the best catch
being Radio La Morena de Itatí from Grand
Bourg, logged for the first time on a new frequency
of 1690 kHz (ex-1530 kHz). Around 0700-0800 UTC
upper-band Brazilians made a brief comeback, ceding
the band eventually to US stations. The graveyard
frequencies opened better than before on this DXpedition,
but otherwise signals were few and weak. Around
midday Jari was already about to pack his gear and
head south, but luckily he stayed, because at 1130-1240
UTC we experienced an excellent DX session to North
America. For a short while signals especially around
1000-1100 kHz and the upper end of the AM band were
strong and clear, with stations from Minnesota down
to Mexico, and it seemed like anything was possible.
Our best catches include KLNG Council Bluffs IA
(1560 kHz), KBEW Blue Earth MN (1560 kHz) and tentatively
KCTA Corpus Christi TX (1020 kHz). The end was abrupt,
leaving only a handful of West Coast dominants on
the dial. Once again, only few stations from the
Saturday, January 7:
I woke up at 2145 UTC on Friday evening, when
the first trans-Atlantic signals were already audible.
A refreshing change was to find a few Chinese stations
around their sunrise. Otherwise overnight was mediocre.
Conditions to the US seemed to improve in the morning,
first there were some East Coast stations, and very
soon also strong West Coast stations. We were both
hunting for Californians, but we had to unplug the
receivers just as things seemed to start rolling.
Oh well, at least our followers Hannu Tikkanen and
Håkan Sundman would enjoy great conditions.
The cabin was unoccupied for a short period after
midday, precisely at the time when stations from
the Pacific islands would have been available -
we heard this news later from fellow hobbyists listening
to these coveted islands in Kongsfjord, Norway.
How much unluckier can you get?
Anyhow, the result can be regarded
as satisfactory. The trend of gradually improving
conditions over the DXpedition period can be seen
also in the space weather indices:
indices (3-hour intervals)
solar wind speed (km/sec)
of flares (events)
||Daily low - high
by Jan Alvestad)
We didn't do much
aside from DXing and compulsory maintenance. On
Tuesday evening we visited civilization; drove
over to Inari
for some grocery shopping, dining out at Kultahovi
(excellent Kamchatka crab!) and checking our emails
over a broadband connection at a local library.
Returning to our cabin we found ourselves locked
out. The lock was in pieces. Breaking in would
have been the last option, but fortunately a neighbor
from across the lake rushed to rescue, riding
his snowmobile filled with tools, and fixed the
lock in no time.
consisted of the usual array of beverage antennas,
each 800-1000 meters long, and various communication
receivers (2 x Drake R8B, 2 x JRC NRD-545, 2 x
NRD-535, Winradio G313e, SDR-14). SDR-14 turned
out to be a hell of a time machine when (rarely)
conditions were really good, but on mediocre conditions
traditional receivers were quite enough.
receivers (at this stage especially SDR-14) tend
to alter the practise of DXing during excellent
conditions. Years ago, armed with just one receiver,
I of course attempted to identify as many stations
as possible live, but as the number of receivers
grew to 2-4, it became more convenient to leave
the most interesting frequencies to be recorded,
and concentrate a more active manual search on
some less promising frequencies. SDR-14 takes
this development a step further by allowing an
entire frequency range to be saved for further
reference. This allows you to extend and treasure
the listening experience in a way that was previously
impossible. It also encourages you to explore
new frequencies, and hopefully make new discoveries.
The result is a DXpedition log, which initially
is relatively modest, but tends to grow significantly
once recordings are reviewed.
This screen shot from Spectravue software
(1345-1405 kHz) shows exceptionally good trans-Atlantic
conditions. The strongest peak on 1350 is
a pest from Latvia, but 1359, 1377, 1395 and
1404 are very weak, while trans-Atlantic signals
are consistently strong.
and Winradio G313e (see separate review
on this receiver published earlier) was interesting;
they are actually very different. SDR-14 is better
in many respects; the 150 kHz wide recording option
is just awesome compared to Winradio's 20 kHz.
The spectrum display is better than in Winradio
and can be tailored in many ways - I found it
easier to interprete, and more comfortable to
the eye. Recording multiple files of the same
frequency range is automated and works well. The
software (Spectravue) never had any problems,
unlike Winradio. The attenuator has several levels,
unlike Winradio, which only has one.
has its advantages though. Its unlimited memory
capacity beats SDR-14, which has no memory channels
at all. It is very frustrating to try to scan
especially 9-kHz interval frequencies with SDR-14.
Winradio's notch is good, while SDR-14 doesn't
even have one. The timeline is much easier to
work with, and the time code is shown constantly,
unlike in SDR-14. Winradio doesn't overload as
easily as SDR-14, which was very difficult to
work with. In principle SDR-14 should indicate
overloading on the screen, but the indicator only
seems to work when overloading is really serious.
In milder cases, you don't see any warning, and
only find afterwards that the recording had been
ruined. Setting the best attenuator level in SDR-14
requires constant trial (and error).
During the first
few days we had frequent blackouts, which caused
problems especially with the software-defined
receivers. SDR-14 fared better, while Winradio
not only lost the recording, but also often stalled
and sometimes crashed the entire computer.
For band scanning
I still preferred to have a traditional table-top
receiver, in my case NRD-545. Despite their annoying
shortcomings, both software-defined receivers
are however very useful in DXpedition use, especially
when recording frequencies that are not constantly
monitored or changed. I often set Winradio aside
for recording the graveyard frequencies of 1230
& 1240 kHz, while SDR recorded a 150 kHz wide
spectrum, often around 1360-1500 kHz. To minimize
overloading concerns, I tried to avoid including
the strongest nearby pests such as Finland's YLE
on 558 & 963 kHz, Norway's NRK on 630 &
1314 kHz, Russian stations on 549, 918, 1134,
1260, 1449 and 1521 kHz, and RTI from Latvia on
1350 kHz. NRK 1314 kHz is the worst station of
all, much of the time destroying any chances of
picking up stations on 1310 or 1320 kHz.
A note about the
spectrum display; it really reveals and demonstrates
what bandwidth-sucking monsters DRM transmitters
are. DRM stations effectively ruin everything
around them. You can't escape DRM interference
even in a distant location like Lemmenjoki. DRM
interference was worst around 1296, 1440 and 1485
receivers, especially SDR-14, of course require
a lot of storage space for recordings. In my case
I recorded a total of over 200 GB on two USB hard
drives! Reviewing those recordings should keep
me busy for the rest of the year...
All good things
come to and end, even DXpeditions. The 15.5-hour
drive up north was manageable when I had a DXpedition
to look forward to, but after a week of sleep
deprivation, taking the train down seemed a wiser
alternative. However, I couldn't resist the temptation
of listening as long as possible, so the last
receiver was unplugged only around 11:40 a.m.
on Saturday. I managed to leave at midday, and
for a while I thought that I was in danger of
missing the train, so I hurried to Kolari in three
hours - early enough. Jari headed home a bit later
at a more relaxed pace.
on January 14, 2006