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LEM278 DXpedition to Lemmenjoki
October 3-10, 2009

by Mika Mäkeläinen

The beginning of October was the earliest I have ever been to Lapland for a DXpedition, so I anticipated rather short peaks of intensive listening only at sunrise and sunset. Capturing these brief moments of good propagation was however easier than ever before, because both I and accompanying DXer Pertti Äyräs were equipped with software-defined receivers. LEM278 was the first DXpedition where I didn’t even bother to take along a single traditional communications receiver, and I have no regrets. Working with two Perseus receivers and two laptop computers was much less hassle.

Reindeer crossing road
Reindeer, King of the Road in Lapland

We met — for the first time in years — at my new home in Vantaa after midday Friday, October 2. Pertti had begun his travel already a couple of hours earlier from his hometown near Turku. Pertti left his car at my place, and we loaded both our stuff to my Nissan Murano, which became full even though one would expect DXpedition luggage to begin shrinking along with the size of the receivers. Maybe it is us who keep on growing.

We set out at 1 pm, and drove north until 8:30 p.m. when we arrived at the summer cottage of fellow DXer Jari Ruohomäki in Muhos. His cabin is a well-known and well-equipped AM listening base, but we spent the evening enjoying Jari's gourmet Indian cooking as well as admiring his collection of Latin American verifications — with plenty of drinks to compensate for any possible dehydration on the way.

Lemmenjoki sign
Destination ahead - about 1150 kilometers from the start. The second line shows the Sami language spelling.

We woke up on Saturday at 6 a.m. when Jari was already listening to Venezuelan AM stations. We left just before daybreak around 7 a.m., and eventually arrived in Lemmenjoki at about 3:45 p.m. in the afternoon, after about 1150 kilometers of driving. Although road conditions this early in the season were very good, on the way we had to keep a constant watch for cops and other wildlife, both of which can cause expensive surprises. A couple of days later I heard in the news that someone had blown up an automated speed surveillance camera near Rovaniemi on the Arctic Circle. No, it wasn't me, and I have logs to prove it... Even though the camera poles are placed profitably right after signs indicating a lower speed limit, using explosives sounds like a pretty extreme reaction.

Further north it makes sense to drive cautiously even when there is no risk of a speeding ticket. We saw reindeer on the road several times, and once, close to the village of Pokka, a giant bull moose crossed the road in front of us. An awesome sight. The moose hunting season was underway, but we had better catches in mind.

Cabin in nice weather
Looks and feels almost like summer

In Lapland, having no snow on the ground and temperatures hovering comfortably around freezing point qualify as summer. And indeed everything was very different from the winter. There was no ice on the lake, the landscape was mostly green, and most importantly, the sun was still up. All this makes for a pleasant difference compared to mid-winter, when any outdoor activity easily turns into a survival lesson. However, on Wednesday, October 7 we got quite a blizzard, dropping 15-20 centimeters of snow in 24 hours, a forceful beginning of the winter.

Cabin after snowstorm
What a difference a day makes

For us, LEM278 marked the end of a transition phase in receiver technology. For the first time we used exclusively software-defined receivers, so there was more room on the table, and the listening experience was more relaxed. The biggest worry was to ensure that the laptops and the Perseus software were working normally, and then you could just sit back and enjoy the sounds. Or, as we are passionate to make new discoveries on the dial, use the extra time to keep on checking for some more exotic targets, and to keep track of any subtle changes in the direction of propagation conditions.

Ice forming
Ice forming on Lake Menesjärvi near Lemmenjoki

Preceding DXpeditionists Jim Solatie and Håkan Sundman had captured a record haul of Australian AM stations, so we also had high hopes for an unprecedented opening to Oceania. On arrival, Asian stations were bound to emerge from the static any minute, so in a hurry we began to assemble our computer-based equipment, which to an outsider basically look like a bunch of boxes with an unbelievable amount of wires running around. In slightly over an hour the first rigs were operable and we were able to immediately check out the sunset session of Asian stations. Solar weather at least seemed favorable, but sometimes not even a quiet sun guarantees favorable conditions. Overall, reception conditions during our DXpedition week were good, but not exceptional. Trans-Atlantic signals landed in our small cabin at best for nearly 12 hours a day, but propagation could have been more varied and localized. Now we mostly got the regular powerhouses day after day, and propagation patterns were very similar nearly every day. Here is a more detailed look at the propagation indices during the DXpedition:

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 NO
AA
STAR NO
AA
Daily low- high Planetary Boulder C M X
1.10.2009 72.0 0 11 2.5 2 0-5 11010010 11111100 287-346      
2.10.2009 71.6 0 0 2.3 2 0-4 11001101 01011000 284-347      
3.10.2009 71.6 0 0 1.3 1 0-3 00001001 00001100 275-323      
4.10.2009 71.1 0 0 4.1 4 2-7 12111011 02122101 280-410      
5.10.2009 69.9 0 0 1.9 2 0-3 01000101 01000110 317-401      
6.10.2009 68.9 0 0 1.3 1 0-4 01000000 01000000 285-348      
7.10.2009 68.5 0 0 1.5 2 0-4 00001000 00010000 279-312      
8.10.2009 68.8 0 0 2.3 2 0-4 11000011 01001101 273-316      
9.10.2009 69.2 0 0 3.4 3 0-5 01111111 01112110 287-325      
10.10.2009 70.0 13 0 2.3 2 0-5 00011011 00011100 271-307      
11.10.2009 70.4 0 0 6.1 6 4-12 11311221 22322310 274-417      
(information collected by Jan Alvestad)

And here's a detailed description of actual day-to-day propagation conditions as we experienced them. For comparison, DXers in Tampere have published a report of their catches on October 7-8 (report in Finnish). Closer to us, fellow DXer Tuomo Ahonen was DXing U.S. stations in Enontekiö in Lapland from October 4th onwards, and his remarks can be read in the PUDXK blog (in English). In Sweden, Gert Nilsson has published his loggings of October 6 and other days.

Mika Mäkeläinen
I also heard 1010 WINS on the radio, a rather easy catch in Lemmenjoki

Saturday, October 3, 2009:

We arrived in Lemmenjoki early enough to get first recordings running by 1400 UTC, when the strongest Far East stations were starting to push through the noise. Conditions improved a bit by 1500 UTC, but were still very wide, so everything from Japan to India was found on the dial. The 1600 UTC top-of-the hour was best, and conditions favored China, Indo-China and India. Bangladesh on 693 kHz had a booming signal. No sign of any Aussies despite frantic scanning of the X-band for any signs of life.

Sunday, October 4, 2009:

Perti Äyräs
Pertti Äyräs almost ran out of storage space for recordings

The first Newfoundland stations (590, 930, 1210 and 1400 kHz) appeared around 2100 UTC on Saturday evening. A couple of the most common daytime stations were logged tentatively, and reception of trans-Atlantic signals improved gradually. Conditions seemed to favor the East Coast of North America, Ontario, and later in the morning around 0400 UTC, also the Rockies. During all that time, stations from Colombia, Venezuela and Puerto Rico were relatively strong. Latin American signals peaked around 0500 UTC, and especially the lower end of the AM dial offered nice surprises. Our instant catches include Radio Auténtica, Bogotá (540 kHz), ZIZ Radio from St. Kitts (555 kHz), WUNO San Juan PR (630 kHz) and Caracol, Bogotá (810 kHz), but there are bound to be many more. Signals lost power rapidly, but 0600 UTC was still quite good. I turned my receivers off after 0700 UTC, when only a bunch of regular catches, mostly from Canada, remained audible. In the afternoon, a few Alaskan and U.S. West Coast stations appeared when the sun was still high up, but nothing worth listening to. Chinese stations became audible around 1230 UTC, earlier than the previous day. Signals from Asia were overall very strong, but conditions were spread over such a large area that finding new stations is going to be a challenge. Again no coveted Aussies, except for a few weak X-band stations.

Reindeer on the road
How about sharing the road?

Monday, October 5, 2009:

This night offered pretty good conditions to North America. The first Newfoundland stations were heard around 2200 UTC Sunday, and with nightfall creeping westwards, new stations became audible all the way to the West Coast, where darkness fell around 0200 UTC. Conditions were limited to the upper half of the AM band, but signals were strong and European interference weaker than usual. Graveyard channels began yielding recognizable signals after 0200 UTC. Among the best catches were KTNO University Park TX on 1440 kHz, which probably forgot daytime power on, judging by its monster signal, and KGOW Bellaire TX on 1560 kHz, heard for hours. Overall however Canadian stations were on top of the pile, and such northerly U.S. stations as the new KYES Rockville MN 1180 kHz and KFNW West Fargo ND 1200 kHz were audible for hours. This was the best propagation from North Dakota that I have ever experienced, including such catches as 1370 KWTL and 1450 KZZJ. In the morning, while North American stations remained dominant, there was a very nice opening towards the southern half of South America at about 0415-0500 UTC, with a few other Latin Americans in the mix, and focused luckily on the lower end of the dial. I have never before heard so many Latin American stations on the bottom AM frequencies (including Radio Colonia, Uruguay on 550 kHz). Soon after 0500 UTC signals from all over the Western Hemisphere began to lose steam. The northwestern corner of the U.S. and a handful of dominant stations from elsewhere lingered around past 0600 UTC and didn't fizzle out for hours. It was quite impressive to hear some stations from the Rockies and the West Coast sticking around long into the afternoon, even though signals were weak. A few common Hawaii stations were heard for hours, but nothing new. Later in the afternoon, Japanese stations popped up around 1300 UTC, but conditions soon degenerated into a typical pan-Asian mess with stations from all around — except from Oceania.

Reindeer charging
I'm not afraid of one lousy car

Tuesday, October 6, 2009:

Newfoundland stations opened the night as usual on Monday evening, followed soon (2230 UTC) by WEGP 1390, and the most common Puerto Rican stations at 2245 UTC. Most North American stations soon disappeared, while a mixture of Latin Americans kept us guessing what to hunt next. North Americans returned gradually around 0100 UTC, and improved until the signals quickly deteriorated around 0530 UTC. The most common West Coast stations remained weak on the dial for hours afterwards. In the early morning hours signal strength was decent, but conditions favored the same area as before, Minnesota and North Dakota, as well as the Canadian Prairie. There was a short morning opening to Latin America around 0400 UTC. Our best catches include KATL Miles City MT and KKOB Albuquerque NM both on 770 kHz, as well as KOOQ North Platte NE on 1410 kHz. In the afternoon, the first Japanese stations opened the Asia session at 1300 UTC, but once again conditions covered such a wide area that finding anything new was challenging. Vietnam easily beat Norway on 630 kHz, which — fortunately — has sounded relatively weak this week. Australian X-band stations were noted at 1500-1600 UTC, but nothing out of the ordinary, or at least not before we get to review our recordings.

Mutusjarvi
Snow-covered Tuorpumapää seen behind Lake Mutusjärvi in Inari.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009:

Trans-Atlantic signals emerged gradually after 2300 UTC, with North America dominating after midnight UTC. The signals were fairly strong until around midday, including even stations from the Eastern half of North America. Canadians tended to dominate frequencies, but also some Mexicans were heard. As stations from all over the continent were represented, it was difficult to get any decent signals on the graveyard frequencies, and even elsewhere, frequencies tended to be dominated by the usual suspects. Around sunrise there was a typical opening to the Caribbean, Colombia and Venezuela. It was a pleasant surprise to hear some Alaskan and Hawaiian stations in the afternoon, especially the Hawaiian music played by KKNE Waipahu on 940 kHz, audible past 1600 UTC, although this is of course not a rare station. In the afternoon, I began recording Asian stations at 1220 UTC, and gradually signals grew stronger than on any previous day. However, again everything from Japan to the Persian Gulf seemed to flood the AM band at once. The most common Philippine stations (on 954, 1062, 1233 and 1314 kHz) were noted in the mix. Bjarne Mjelde was simultaneously listening in Norway, and alerted us to New Zealand on 1035 kHz, but not a trace of the station was observed here. How unfair — seems like the border control extends even to the airwaves... Just before surrendering the AM band to Europeans, a few Koreans were identified at 1600 UTC, among them KCBS Wiwon on 719.87 kHz and HLKG Daegu on 738 kHz.

Ylläs
On return we briefly stopped at Ylläs ski center to admire the view.

Thursday, October 8, 2009:

The night session began on Wednesday evening at 2200 UTC with quite good signals from Brazil, but unfortunately the national "A Voz do Brasil" is aired precisely at that time, so getting station identifications was impossible. After the end of the program, conditions had shifted further southwest, favoring Argentina and Uruguay. Our catches include Rádio Tupinambá, Brazil, on 1120 kHz, and Radio Azul, Argentina, on 1320 kHz. North American stations emerged around 0220 UTC, after which conditions focused on Atlantic Canada, Canadian Prairie and the Pacific Northwest. Cubans were heard after 0500 UTC for a couple of hours, but then conditions to all directions dwindled. Recordings will hopefully reveal something more, especially from South America earlier in the night, but conditions towards North America were still disappointing. In the afternoon, Japanese stations marched in force around 1200 UTC. During the ensuing four-hour Asian session especially Chinese signals were very strong, but once again conditions tended to favor such a large area that finding anything beyond the common dominants is cumbersome.

Reindeer on road
Any intention of moving?

Friday, October 9, 2009:

Brazilians were the first to cross the Atlantic around 2200 UTC on Thursday evening, but weaker than the previous day. Nighttime conditions were similarly mixed, with Atlantic Canada being consistently strong, and weak outbursts from the La Plata area, Puerto Rico and East Coast North America (catches including Radio Antares from Argentina on 1650 kHz and WKOX Newton MA on 1200 kHz). In the wee hours North American propagation improved, and by dawn there were stations on just about every frequency. Signal strength was very good, but it would have helped to have a more narrow focus area. In the afternoon, Asian signals were stronger than on previous days, but followed a typical all-at-once pattern. Just a few Aussies were caught, even though much more was heard at the same time in Parkalompolo in Sweden.

Saturday, October 10, 2009:

On our last night conditions to Latin America were very good. Venezuela and Colombia had the best signals. North American stations improved later at night, with conditions shifting to the Northwestern corner by early morning. Many Cubans remained in the mix for hours after sunrise, with such catches as Radio Libertad on 1350 kHz, at 0800 UTC, which is remarkably late considering it was still early October. We pulled the plug around midday, and left behind the best conditions of the week. It looked like the next dxpeditionists, Martti Karimies and Jari Sinisalo, due to arrive on Saturday evening, would have quite a feast.

A relaxing week came to an end, and it was time to say goodbye to Lemmenjoki — although both of us plan to return later this season. Our return trip went smoothly, first driving from Lemmenjoki to Kolari on the Swedish border, and then by train overnight from Kolari down to Helsinki. The train was more than half-empty, as this was not a tourist season, and so it was also very quiet. I slept like a baby.

Published on October 14, 2009

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