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LEM239 DXpedition to Lemmenjoki
December 27, 2006 - January 5, 2007

by Mika Mäkeläinen

If driving hundreds of miles just to listen to the radio isn't crazy enough, picture this: I flew thousands of miles from Washington D.C. to Finland to try to pick up stations from around Washington D.C. Well, going to Finland was really a Christmas vacation trip, but a DXpedition to Lemmenjoki was a vital ingredient of it. Fortunately we had some leeway in the timing so that both I and fellow DXer Jari Ruohomäki were able to head north right after Christmas to enjoy improving conditions until the expected rise in solar activity would hit in early January.

I packed my wife's Chrysler Voyager on the evening of Christmas day to be ready for a pre-dawn departure from my parents' home in Tampere. Due to jetlag my internal clock was already in shambles, so waking up at 5 a.m. couldn't make things any worse. I tried to book a train ride north, because driving conditions were predicted to be awful, but there was no more room for cars. So I hit the road at 5:25 a.m. in foggy weather. As I turned on the radio, "Let it Snow" was the first piece to smoothen the ride, but luckily the minor sleet in Tampere soon gave way to clear weather and decent driving conditions. It was unseasonably warm, so roads were icy only beyond Oulu, halfway north.

Kuivajärvi
Midday at Kuivajärvi in Lemmenjoki

Järviradio, a local FM station along the way, was rebroadcasting VOA Music Mix, which was a nice companion to get into the DXpedition spirit while driving along highway 4, the vertical artery of the country. Dawn was breaking after 9 a.m. when, at 335 kilometers, I first stopped at Vaskikello, which is a huge collection of clocks with a service station, a legendary pit stop. Later refuelling myself and my vehicle in Kemi, Rovaniemi, Sodankylä and Ivalo, I combated sleepiness before arriving in Kaamanen at 7:19 p.m. after 1050 kilometers (652 miles). There I visited a site which had just become a remote DXing post for myself and Jim Solatie, fetching my laptop and SDR-14 for some live action in Lemmenjoki, where I finally arrived at 10:35 p.m. after 1110 kilometers (690 miles). Getting everything organized took several hours, but as night-time conditions were not much to boast about, it didn't really matter. Jari's trip from Oulu was much shorter, and he arrived on Wednesday evening.

Cottage
DXing headquarters of the north

Overall the reception conditions turned out to be pretty good. For the first seven days conditions improved all the time, and nearly every day we got a bunch of new and rare U.S. stations. After solar activity rose on January 2, we still kept nailing U.S. stations to a lesser degree, but modest conditions to North America were fully compensated with improving reception of South American and Asian stations. However, signal levels of North American stations were nowhere near what they should be during the monthly solar minimum. Probably the atmosphere was still reeling from the rough ride during most of December.

There was at least some trans-Atlantic activity on the dial to keep us moderately busy every day, although night-time conditions were generally modest. Taking into consideration that this was mid-winter, we didn't have high expectations concerning the Pacific, so the absence of Southern Pacific wasn't really a disappointment. Tropical band shortwave, when rarely tried, was either dead or didn't produce anything of interest. Here is a detailed look at the reception conditions each day:

Reindeer
A fearless reindeer

Wednesday, December 27:
Having arrived very late on Tuesday evening, I slowly got my gear running during the night and slept hardly at all - a recurring mistake on a first DXpedition night, stubbornly remaining awake during below-average conditions. What I presumed to be Radio Senda on 1680 kHz was one of the few interesting stations. U.S. stations began to emerge around 0400 UTC, and by 0700 even some stations in the lower end of the dial were heard. The Great Lakes and especially Ohio were the strongest (highlights being WKRC Cincinnati OH 550 kHz and WBNS Columbus OH 1460 kHz), with a few Cubans and Mexicans in the midst. In the afternoon the signals just vanished. U.S. West Coast stations were unheard, but some Asian, especially Chinese, stations landed at dusk.

Thursday, December 28:
Brazilian stations were logged around midnight, including Rádio Atalaia, Maringá PR on 1310 kHz. Listening to 1310 and 1320 kHz was a real pleasure as Scandinavia's strongest powerhouse transmitter, Norway's NRK had vacated 1314 kHz six months earlier. As expected, U.S. stations were in full swing by daybreak, and by midday even graveyard frequencies yielded a few station identifications, although signals remained weak. The lower end opened up nicely for a couple of hours - for example WEZE Boston MA 590 kHz, XEEY Aguascalientes AG and XEDTL Cd. México DF, both on 660 kHz, were heard, and tentatively also WFLF Pine Hills FL on 540 kHz (where no U.S. stations have previously been heard in Finland). Also other nice Mexicans were identified through the day, including XEBI Aguascalientes AG 790 kHz, XECT Monterrey NL 1190 kHz and XEGNK Nuevo Laredo NL 1370 kHz. Minnesotan stations were heard late into the afternoon (KBEW Blue Earth MN 1560 kHz at 1200 UTC and KATE Albert Lea MN 1450 kHz at 1300 UTC), then conditions just faded away without proceeding to the Rockies or the West Coast. Also Cubans were audible late into the day. Conditions favored the Great Lakes region. During the few daylight hours we checked and repaired a few thin wires that had been unsupervised for a couple of weeks during strong winds and rapidly alternating weather.

Moonlight
Moonlight at 2:45 p.m.

Friday, December 29:
A narrow selection of stations from the U.S. East Coast, Venezuela and the rest of South America emerged after 0000 UTC - which is when we woke up (yes, too late), so can't really be sure what happened before. Conditions improved gradually, with especially several Venezuelan stations with heavy signals. U.S. stations vanished for a while and began to re-emerge around 0400 UTC. Venezuelan and Colombian stations however continued to perform well until around 0800 UTC (for example Radio Venezuela, Maracay, and Radio Popular, Cali, both on 1080 kHz), joined soon by strong Cuban stations in the lower end of the dial (for example Radio Rebelde on 560, 620, 670 and 710 kHz). By midday U.S. East Coast stations dominated, but remained fairly weak, for example hardly anything was audible on graveyard frequencies. In the early afternoon, V7AB from the Marshall Islands showed up on 1098 kHz, but nothing else from the Southern Pacific. U.S. stations faded away after midday (the best catch being KRCN Longmont CO on 1060 kHz), but gained strength again around 1100 UTC, for the first time from the West Coast. In the afternoon, only the most common Far East stations were heard.

Saturday, December 30:
This night we woke up early, but to not much avail. Excluding the Detroit powerhouse WLQV (1500 kHz) and a few weak Brazilians, stations from the Western Hemisphere appeared only after 0000 UTC. Conditions remained lousy all through the night. When U.S. signals began to improve before daybreak, conditions stretched all the way to the West Coast. Without much direction and focus in the conditions, graveyard frequencies continued to be a mess until early afternoon, when some regular stations from Oregon and the Rockies were heard. This was nevertheless an improvement compared to previous days, when graveyard channels were mostly quiet as a graveyard. Midwest stations were heard past 1300 UTC, but no daytimers were noted. The best catches of the day include KUTR Taylorsville UT 820 kHz, WNEM Bridgeport MI 1250 kHz and WOKB Winter Garden FL on 1600 kHz. Asian performance was once again poor.

Listening post
Our listening post

Sunday, December 31:
New Year's Eve on the dial began before midnight UTC with a bunch of regular stations from the Great Lakes and Midwest. Practically nothing was heard from Latin America. A peak associated with sunset - the first such case during this DXpedition - occurred at around 0100 UTC when darkness fell on the U.S. West Coast. Although U.S. stations were heard through the night, we didn't discover any rarities. In the morning European interference was more persistent than usual, but conditions improved by the afternoon, and for the first time we were really able to indulge in listening to the local channels as well. A fascinating opening on 1080 kHz offered KRLD Dallas TX, WKJK Louisville KY and WNWI Oak Lawn IL in addition to the dominant WTIC, all within 13 minutes! Talking about luck - none of these stations was heard for much more than the station ID. Midwestern stations were still audible around local sunrise after 1300 UTC, which was a rare treat. Nice catches included KOKK Huron SD on 1210 kHz, KBRF Fergus Falls MN on 1250 kHz and WPDR Portage WI on 1350 kHz. Conditions to Asia were moderate - but still better than on any previous day. For example Guangdong PBS was noted on 648 kHz. Otherwise stations ranged from Japan to Afghanistan, and even a single Australian X-band station was heard.

Mika Mäkeläinen
Mika Mäkeläinen

Monday, January 1:
New Year began with a major change in the local AM dial: the stronger one of Finland's two AM transmitters was shut down. YLE had run the 600-kilowatt transmitter in Pori 24/7 to broadcast to Northern Europe, but as both foreign broadcasting as a service and AM as a medium have declined in importance, the Pori transmitter began to look like an obsolete relict. It was a weird feeling to check 963 kHz after midnight and find YLE gone. From a pure AM DXing point of view this was a welcome change, as one of the biggest local sources of interference was now a thing of the past, and would make it much easier to DX around 960-970 kHz - which is precisely what we did and found for example Radio Reloj, Guantánamo/Cienfuegos on 960 kHz and KNFX Austin MN on 970 kHz during the morning hours. Earlier, Jari had checked the dial before 2200 UTC on Sunday and found it empty, but I woke up at 2250 UTC to enjoy trans-Atlantic stations all over the upper end of the dial. Both U.S. and Brazilian stations were fairly weak, and conditions lost steam during the early morning hours. However, we expected the morning and daytime listening to be the best so far, at it was indeed very good, although conditions were general in nature, everything from Cuba to Alaska buzzing on the dial, so finding new stations was difficult.

Mika listening
Wearing KABL and listening to something else on the same frequency.

Japanese and Chinese stations started to invade the dial after 1100 UTC, but then all of a sudden at 1155 UTC everything from the Western Hemisphere vanished. In Asia, only a couple of Thai stations remained audible. The U.S. West coast regained strength, but as only the usual suspects seemed to be audible, we set a bunch of automated recordings on guard and headed to Ivalo for grocery shopping and dining. Later in the evening repeated blackouts wreaked havoc on our hard drives, but eventually the local power company agreed to give us a call every time they needed to shut down electricity because of repairs. When the hassle was over by midnight, it was time to begin another DXing day, although we had missed our usual early evening window of opportunity to get some sleep.

Tuesday, January 2:
U.S. stations from the Great Lakes area appeared on the dial before 2300 UTC on Monday evening. Brazil followed suit, but the rest of the night was below average, and we finally had some sleep. Spanish stations had stronger signals than before, so we focused on the RNE regional break at 0645-0700 UTC. Unfortunately conditions favored the northwestern half of the country, as usual. Then there was an absolutely fascinating opening to Brazil and Argentina around 0700-0825 UTC, during which signals in the upper end of the dial were truly enjoyable. Among the best catches were ZYJ310 Rádio Brasil Sul, Londrina PR, on 1290 kHz, ZYJ891 Rádio Sintonia, Ituporanga SC, on 1310 kHz, ZYJ255 Rádio Brasil Tropical, Curitiba PR, 1320 kHz, and ZYJ749 Rádio Chapecó, Chapecó SC, on 1330 kHz. Also some X-band Argentine stations were heard, including Radio Guaviyú, Gregorio de Lafarrere BA, on 1610 kHz and Hosanna AM, Ezeiza, on 1660 kHz. After South Americans faded out, a mixed bunch of U.S. stations from all over the country remained on the dial. U.S. stations behaved very differently from previous days; signals on regional channels were mostly weak, but local frequencies were better than earlier. Conditions focused in the Rockies and on the West Coast. Signal strength varied wildly, with occasional fadeouts. U.S. stations vanished before 1100 UTC, gradually giving way to Chinese stations. Conditions to Asia turned out to be the best so far, but without a clear focus, stations were heard from Japan to the Middle East. Overall, this was not the best day towards North America, but an extremely exciting listening experience because of the variation in conditions.

Jari Ruohomäki
Jari Ruohomäki

Wednesday, January 3:
We kept a close watch on overnight openings, which under these magnetic conditions are typically very short. There were a couple - from both the U.S. and Brazil - but then at 0330 UTC all trans-Atlantic signals vanished. Stations re-emerged before 0600 UTC, but that was the time to hunt for Spanish local and regional breaks. A bit later we experienced a pattern similar to the day before - stations from Southern Brazil and Argentina surged at 0700-0800 UTC, although signal strength was not quite on par with Tuesday. After that it was time to focus on U.S. stations. Conditions were generally not as good as on previous days but nevertheless interesting as stations emerged and vanished rapidly. This didn't last very long, and soon the band was mostly quiet. Interestingly, a couple of the most common graveyard stations from the U.S. West (KART Jerome ID on 1400 kHz and KONP Port Angeles WA 1450 kHz) remained rather strong, although only few other stations produced a decent signal. Stations from the Rockies and the West Coast made a comeback around 1300 UTC. At the same time, Chinese and later also Thai stations improved, and eventually made a stronger showing than on any previous day.

sausages
BBQing sausages and keeping warm

Thursday, January 4:
First weak signals from the Western Hemisphere were noted around 0000 UTC, and during the rest of the night only weak Brazilians were found on the dial. Stations from Brazil and Argentina strengthened just like during the previous two days, but somewhat earlier, 0600-0730 UTC.
Most U.S. stations vanished from the dial already around 0900 UTC, the earliest so far. Just a handful of the most strongest West Coast stations kept the band alive over the daylight hours until West Coast regained strength around 1200 UTC. The first Japanese stations emerged around 1215 UTC, and soon Chinese stations invaded much of the dial. Overall the poorest conditions of the DXpedition to the Western Hemisphere, but the best conditions to the Eastern Hemisphere. Unfortunately I never caught many of the station identifications that I thought I did, because for an unknown reason my other SDR-14 just didn't produce any sound files this afternoon.

Friday, January 5:
I left already on Thursday, but Jari decided to stay for one more day. Conditions became weaker again on Friday, and not much was heard from anywhere overnight, only weak Brazilians, but no sign of U.S. stations. Only before 0800 UTC some stations from the Southern half of South America emerged, and as Europeans were already retreating, even a difficult frequency like 1170 kHz produced a Latin American station. At 0815 UTC U.S. West Coast stations appeared throughout the AM dial, but began to weaken already before 0900 UTC, after which Jari closed the shop. Conditions would have improved in the afternoon, but unfortunately nobody was able to take advantage of them, as DXpeditionists for the LEM240 DXpedition only arrived on Saturday.


Here is a summary of space weather indices during the DXpedition, clearly showing the change that took place after New Year:

Date Solar flux at Earth 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
26.12.2006 75.0 12 25 3.3 3 2-4 10111110 11111211 424-561      
27.12.2006 73.3 0 23 1.8 2 0-3 10000100 01011220 346-441      
28.12.2006 76.3 11 0 1.8 2 0-6 00000102 01001101 318-350      
29.12.2006 78.4 0 0 2.3 2 0-4 00001111 00011110 317-367      
30.12.2006 80.0 26 11 1.6 2 0-3 10000000 00001200 332-363      
31.12.2006 83.3 29 28 0.6 1 0-3 00000001 00002111 276-367 1    
1.1.2007 86.9 38 28 7.3 7 2-18 00123312 11134322 333-577      
2.1.2007 90.0 41 30 19.3 19 7-39 44245323 44344422 512-665      
3.1.2007 81.3 38 38 20.1 20 6-32 24344433 24344423 574-794      
4.1.2007 89.4 43 36 15.6 16 9-27 34442322 34443312 566-748      
5.1.2007 89.4 46 43 9.0 9 4-15 32233221 32333211 548-662      
6.1.2007 87.3 44 47 3.4 3 0-6 11001211 11111211 445-560      
(information collected by Jan Alvestad)
 

SDR-14 and Winradio
3 x SDR-14 and one Winradio

The AM band now had a distinctly different feeling from last winter. This was my first DXpedition after Norway's NRK last summer shut down its 1200-kilowatt transmitter on 1314 kHz, which resulted in a huge reduction of interference. The 1310-1320 kHz stretch of the dial in fact turned from one of the most difficult frequency ranges into one of the most quiet and most enjoyable ones to DX. Then on New Year's day Finland's YLE vacated 963 kHz, improving DXing in the area around 960-970 kHz. Now if only Russia would close down its many powerhouses just around the corner in the Kola Peninsula (especially jaw-breaking Mayak transmitters on 1449 and 1521 kHz) and further south near St. Petersburg, the Lapland AM dial would become close to perfect in terms of avoiding local interference.

Compared to last year, our receivers kept shrinking while our storage space continued ballooning. We both used two SDR-14 receivers as our main receivers. Additionally, Jari had three traditional communications receivers (Drake R8B, JRC NRD-535 and NRD-545). I had a Winradio G313 and I had borrowed an NRD-535 and 545 from Jim Solatie. This arsenal was so massive that we seldom used all of it. Most of the time the conditions were limited so that only a part of the AM dial offered something interesting, and it didn't make sense to cover as many frequencies as we would have been able to. But occasionally, when conditions merited, it was really comforting to be able to combine the liberty of wandering around the dial and exploring new frontiers, while maintaining the certainty of catching at least something.

Mika setting up an SDR-14
Mika setting up an SDR-14

During good conditions the main idea was to blanket cover swaths of interesting frequencies using SDR-14s, and maintain on active search in the rest of the dial fingering the traditional communications receivers. SDR output was stored on external hard drives, and minidisc decks were used with the traditional receivers. The resulting initial haul is of course enormous, much larger than both of us have ever had, and digging for the nuggets will easily take the rest of the year. In a way this is very nice as it allows you to extend the DXpedition experience, living and reliving the highlights of the DXpedition at the comfort of your home. So it takes time to develop a full picture of the net catch and therefore the LEM239 log will be published much later (finally out in October 2007). There was a group of DXers in Parkalompolo in Swedish Lapland (PAX68) at the same time, and it is interesting to compare our catches to their log.

Antennas in Lemmenjoki remained roughly the same as during the previous season. A new wire aimed at 271 degrees was very efficient in pulling in stations from the Southern half of South America. For North America I mostly used just two antennas, pointing at 300 and 336 degrees.

On both Thursdays I spent late afternoon and early evening in Kaamanen, some 60 kilometers north, discussing issues related to a new listening post there. This site is an example of a type of automated DXpeditioning that has caused some controversy among hobbyists, but is likely to be increasingly used by those of us not able to travel to decent DXing locations as often as we would like to. We would leave SDR receivers to record predetermined frequencies at predetermined times, thanks to a newly-added timer function in the Spectravue software. In principle this is of course nothing new - many have taken advantage of timed recordings for years. Along with SDR-14 the volume of monitoring is however on a totally different scale, which seems to worry some, although one of the positive aspects of SDR listening is that it is not like trawler fishing - it doesn't reduce the catch of others. The signals are still there for anyone to listen to, by older or newer means.

Back to Lemmenjoki. Our array of laptops, external hard drives and software-defined radios seemed to suck electricity at record rate, twice blowing the fuse of the hut and causing the loss of a few recordings. This hi-tech dxpeditioning was also vulnerable to other technical glitches, such as hard drives not being recognized by the laptops. Then there is the ever-present human factor - I managed to destroy most of my Winradio recordings for the first four days by keeping the "overwrite file" box checked. How stupid of me, I ought to have known better by now. But also SDR-14 caused some headaches, as (despite all settings being right) it didn't produce a single sound file on Thursday afternoon, when conditions to Asia were the best. Restarting the computer eventually remedied the situation, but unfortunately I discovered the problem only after four hours of excellent conditions - lost in (cyber)space. On a more positive note, the Spectravue software used with SDR-14 had been improved since last winter: in addition to the timer function, the maximum recordable frequency range had been extended from 150 kHz to 190 kHz, and frequency hopping at 9-kiloherz intervals had become possible.

Our DXpedition wasn't much of an outdoor experience, but the weather was very pleasant and warm for this time of the year, with temperatures ranging from above freezing point (30-35 degrees F) down to -15 degrees C (5 F). Maintaining antennas was not overly difficult, as there was only about 30-40 centimeters of snow. Aside from reindeer, close encounters with the Arctic wildlife were few. The fearless fox (see LEM202 DXpedition report for a picture) was no longer around. I asked about it, and I was told that the fox had become a nuisance, bullying dogs on leash in the neighborhood, so it was shot.

Jari stayed until Friday, but I headed south on Thursday evening, January 4, again in what was predicted to be poor driving conditions. It wasn't too bad after all, and driving during the night was pleasant as there was hardly any traffic at all. I pulled over around 7 a.m. at a rest area south of Oulu to get 1.5 hours of sleep before continuing to Tampere, where I arrived around 1:30 p.m. The Voyager had gained 2430 kilometers (1510 miles) in ten days for the sake of DXing, but as anyone who has ever been on an Arctic DXpedition can testify, it was worth every kilometer. And it was worth it even if you take into account the second leg of the journey back home - flying 7000 kilometers over the Atlantic a couple of days later.

Published on January 12, 2007, slightly edited later

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