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LEM287 DXpedition to Lemmenjoki
December 27, 2009 - January 9, 2010

by Mika Mäkeläinen

My second DXpedition of the season was pretty successful, but very different from last year at the same time. Chinese stations ruled the AM band, and overall reception from Asia was very good, a stark contrast to the 271th DXpedition in Lemmenjoki a year earlier, when very few Far East stations were heard. Limited propagation to the Western Hemisphere was a bit disappointing considering that in terms of solar weather all preconditions for excellent reception did exist. Nevertheless, we got several U.S. daytime-only stations, which is always a cause for celebration.

road at night
On the road again

After a traditional Christmas vacation trip with family to my original hometown Tampere, I scrambled to repack my car with all the necessary DXpedition stuff. And there was a lot of it, even though receivers nowadays take less space than ever. It seems that external hard drives easily occupy whatever space is left, and once again, I had more of them than ever before. You know, you have to be prepared for those elusive AM DX conditions of the century - even if listening to the highlights would take years.

I set out on Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. when it was still dark, with the aim of reaching Lemmenjoki late at night. I stopped briefly to refuel myself and the car in Pyhäsalmi in Central Finland on Highway 4, and when I got back on the road, it was already getting dark. I had barely slept at night, so just staying awake was a bit challenging, and driving in light snow and slippery roads wasn't exactly helpful. I saw a couple of trucks stuck on an uphill stretch. Finally in Rovaniemi on the Arctic Circle, where I shopped for groceries, I just had to close my eyes and rest for half an hour in the car. It made all the difference, and afterwards it was rather easy to stay awake for the rest of the journey. I finally arrived in Lemmenjoki around 12:30 a.m., after 16 hours and 1140 km (710 miles) of traveling.

Sign to Lappi
A sign in Pyhäsalmi says it is still 287-890 kilometers to Lapland. Exactly - it depends where in Lapland you're traveling to!

Adios Cuba, Nihao China

Fellow DXer Jari Ruohomäki from Oulu had arrived in Lemmenjoki two days earlier, and left back home three days earlier than me, but most of the DXpedition we shared the cabin. On Jari's first two days of listening stations from the Midwest and the Rockies had come fairly well. After my arrival reception of North American signals continued daily from around 2100 UTC to 1500 UTC, or even around the clock if Alaskan stations are counted. Generally stations were heard from Coast to Coast as long as a path of darkness existed between us and the radio stations. A few daytimers crowned our evenings. On Sunday, January 3, 2010, reception conditions changed. In terms of the U.S., nighttime conditions worsened significantly, mostly Western stations were heard during the daytime, and Canadians became even more dominant than before.

Very few Cuban stations were logged, a major difference from LEM271 a year earlier. Also other Latin Americans were weak, and we only got a fleeting taste of the remarkable midwinter phenomenon of Brazilian and Argentine stations emerging strong around 0700-0830 UTC. A nice exception was the rise of Venezuelan and Colombian stations exceptionally late on Wednesday, January 6. Greenland's national radio KNR was hardly ever heard, although a year ago it was a major nuisance covering interesting trans-Atlantic frequencies. Arctic Radio on 1584 kHz, a special short-term station in Morokulien in neighboring Sweden, was not heard at all in Lemmenjoki.

snow mobile tracks
Highways of the north - snow mobiles are the way to get around here.

The most pleasant experience was the extremely strong showing of Chinese stations throughout the DXpedition, as well as Philippine stations on Friday, January 8. Also a couple of shortwave catches, Radio Symban from Australia on 2368.5 kHz and Radio San Carlos from Costa Rica on 2859.82 kHz, were positive surprises. Generally AM conditions kept us busy enough without having to resort to shortwave, where there would be very few stations to hunt anyway. A more detailed description of the propagation conditions on each day can be found in the end of this report.

We both used software-defined receivers, although Jari also had one JRC NRD-535 for browsing the dial. I worked with two Perseus receivers and Jari with an array of SDR-14 and SDR-IQ receivers, enough to cover the entire AM band. A total of 11 beverage antennas, each about 1 kilometer in length, all proved to be useful at one time or another.

Our DXing was very intensive and resulted in sleep deprivation. The daily DX routine allowed slots for sleep roughly at 1700-2030 UTC, and again in the early morning at around 0300-0550 UTC. A couple of books reserved for pastime in case of very poor conditions remained untouched.

Cabin at dawn
The coldest and coolest place in Lapland

Cold as in Alaska? You betcha!

As everyone knows, sauna is an integral part of the Finnish lifestyle, and you sometimes hear people bragging about how high temperatures their sauna has reached. Well, our sauna was the coldest I have ever been to - initially just 42 degrees Celsius, roughly half of what Finns would consider normal and a third of what the most ardent aficionados can endure. After spending an hour in the sauna it finally warmed to a bearable level.

The stove in our landlady's sauna is no longer in the best possible shape. Still, the cabin itself - which doesn't have a sauna - is in an even more rundown condition. The floor is leaning to one edge, and insulation is so poor that in addition to electric radiators you need to keep burning wood in the stove just to keep warm. Elementary, but serves the purpose.

thermometer
And the weather forecast for today, looks like it's gonna be a cold morning...

On arrival I noticed that the door handle had fallen off from the outside. Previous dxpeditionists had replaced it with a metal wire which you had to pull to open the door. Then one day it broke off, the door was pretty well stuck, and I was outside. Fortunately this time around I wasn't visiting the outhouse semi-naked, but appropriately dressed for the -27 degree temperature outside, as I was leaving to get some more groceries. The nearest shop is a mere 40 kilometers away. When I returned, a neighbor helped to fix the door temporarily with a spare handle.

Lemmenjoki is a notoriously cold place. During this DXpedition the lowest recorded temperature was -38 degrees Celsius (-36 F), even though the national record for this winter is so far "only" -37 degrees. There are no official weather stations of the Finnish Meteorological Institute anywhere nearby, so these cold spells never make it to history books. Officially, the lowest temperature ever recorded in Finland is -51.5 degrees Celsius, but at the same time the temperature in Lemmenjoki was -58 degrees Celsius (-72 F).

This is what the solar weather indices looked like during our 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
27.12.2009 76.8 19 17 2.1 2 0-5 00111100 00112200 344-432
28.12.2009 75.8 16 17 0.9 1 0-3 00010000 00010100 326-349
29.12.2009 74.7 21 17 0.5 0 0-2 00000000 00000000 269-345
30.12.2009 76.9 19 15 0.0 0 0-0 00000000 00010001 269-271
31.12.2009 79.9 18 18 0.8 1 0-2 00000000 00110100 269-278
1.1.2010 75.2 17 16 0.9 1 0-5 00000001 00000102 270-302
2.1.2010 78.0 18 22 0.4 0 0-3 00000001 00000100 270-337 3
3.1.2010 76.4 16 20 3.3 3 0-7 01122000 02222100 271-311 1
4.1.2010 74.5 13 15 2.0 2 0-6 00210000 00220100 270-341 1
5.1.2010 76.8 0 13 1.0 1 0-4 00000100 00101100 270-336
6.1.2010 77.3 0 0 0.9 1 0-3 01000000 01000100 275-347
7.1.2010 78.1 14 15 0.9 1 0-3 00000001 00100000 270-332
8.1.2010 77.4 14 14 1.5 2 0-3 00100100 00210000 270-323
9.1.2010 81.7 23 20 1.4 1 0-4 00001101 00001100 270-288 1
10.1.2010 84.4 27 25 2.3 2 0-5 00011101 00111200 270-324
(information collected by Jan Alvestad)

Here's a closer look at the propagation conditions day by day. Jari reports on the first two days, and I'm covering the rest:

Sunday, December 27

Jari: LEM287 is now on. I arrived yesterday evening before 19 UTC. Having given some tulips to our 90-year-old host Kristiina it was time set up the listening post. I am not sure about the quality of the conditions in the night because I had to concentrate on controlling all the 6 SDRs and 1 NRD in a sensible way and sleeping as well. There were Yankees all day long till 15 UTC. It seems that the most interesting moments were before noon. I noticed KROE 930 and KID 590 "on the fly". Next I have to google which one is broadcasting ESPN Deportes Radio on 1310. Probably some bull***t from the west.

Mika
Mika Mäkeläinen wearing a WIFE 1580 AM t-shirt

Monday, December 28

Jari: No morning Brazilians, no La Plata, no Mexicans and not even high quality Yankees. Quite boring all night and day long. Canadians and dominants are booming and it is hard to be "at the right time on the right frequency". Files of more than 150 GB should contain some highlights. NRD loggings: KBSU 730, KUGN 590, KDAL 610, KUBC 580. The current outdoor temperature is only -15. And the indoor temp has finally reached +20. That's today's highlight so far. Yesterday evening it was -31 and, of course, I was without electricity for 3 hours (17-20 UTC). But now everything is under control, except that the conditions should be much more directional and interesting.

Tuesday, December 29

Mika: I got my gear running just before midnight UTC on Monday evening, when U.S. stations were audible all across the AM band. Soon conditions covered a wide area from Colombia and the Caribbean to the entire North America. WMCA New York NY on 570 kHz was one of the best catches of the night. North American stations continued to dominate the dial even late afternoon, when 930 KSDN and 1060 KGFX, both from South Dakota, were logged around their local sunrise. Otherwise there was little directionality in conditions at any point. The new X-band Canadian CJEU on 1670 kHz turned out to be an easy catch. The first Asian stations were noticed around 0930 UTC, but conditions remained mediocre, and spread over a huge area, so finding anything new is challenging. A bunch of the most common Philippine stations (such as 882, 1160.9 and 1314 kHz) were heard loud and stable. Overall, decent, but not super. The huge amount of recordings should however guarantee some nice surprises. Early evening I was happy to hear Radio Symban from Australia on 2368.5 kHz. The signal was relatively strong considering that conditions didn't really favor Australia. Afterwards I heard from the station that the transmitter power at the time of listening was 400 watts.

Decade of wires
The leading daily Helsingin Sanomat did a large article "The decade of the wires" at new year - without a word about DXing.

Wednesday, December 30

North American stations were heard all around the AM dial by 2200-2300 UTC, but unfortunately the usual suspects from Canada and the Upper Midwest tended to dominate the channels. Overnight catches included WEBC Duluth MN on 560 kHz. Signal strength was initially very good but weakened a bit in the wee hours. Hardly anything was heard from Latin America overnight, and even in the morning reception was sporadic. Only few Cubans were heard, but Radio Rebelde still hung around way past 1000 UTC on 1180 kHz. The best time for North America was around 1200-1500 UTC, when also graveyard channels were decent and many West Coast stations (notably 1290 KOUU) remained audible until 1600 UTC, past its local sunrise. One of the best catches was KLBS Los Banos CA on 1330 kHz. From the Eastern Hemisphere, the first Asians were noted after 0900 UTC. Initially many of the stations were from northern China, but gradually conditions covered too wide an area to make interesting catches - nevertheless, a better-than-average day for Chinese stations.

Thursday, December 31

Our New Year's Eve began already around 2100 UTC on Wednesday evening, when stations from Atlantic Canada and the U.S. Northeast emerged from the noise. Our best catches include CFSX Stephenville NF on 870 kHz and WHJJ Providence RI on 920 kHz, which has become a fairly common station this season. Afterwards relatively poor conditions on the AM band drove me to shortwave, where Radio San Carlos from Costa Rica was a neat surprise on 2859.82 kHz (a second harmonic of 1430 kHz), heard the first time I ever even tried for it, although without a proper ID - which I got the following night. On the Latin front it was also nice to catch Radio Pachamama from Puno, Peru, on 849.90 kHz. In the morning reception to all directions was below the level of preceding days. North America improved somewhat in the afternoon, and both KKIN Aitkin MN and KSDN Aberdeen SD were identified on 930 kHz. U.S. stations nearly vanished around 1400 UTC. A few Mexicans were heard around midday, including XEBBB Guadalajara JL on 1040 kHz. JOIF on 1413 kHz marked the beginning of the Asian influx already at 0840 UTC. The first Chinese stations were from the northern part of the country, including Liaoning PBS on 963 kHz, but later on typical pan-Asian conditions ensued.

Jari
Jari Ruohomäki with enough SDR-IQ and SDR-14 receivers to cover the entire AM band.

Friday, January 1, 2010

North American stations surfaced gradually around 2100-2200 UTC on Thursday evening, but signals remained weaker than on the previous night. No new stations were noted in real time, although it was interesting to see that KGOW Bellaire TX had shifted from 1560 sharp to 1559.94 kHz. A few Brazilians and other Latin Americans were heard as well, but conditions remained below average. On a positive note, it was neat to hear the New Year being welcomed in different time zones around the world, and listen to ABBA's "Happy New Year" for umpteen times. After 1000 UTC U.S. stations came in full force from Coast to Coast, and many of them airing Coast to Coast AM. In the afternoon conditions improved on the upper half of the AM band, peaking at 1300-1400 UTC, with Mexicans joining the mix. One of the best catches on the Western front was KROE Sheridan WY on 930 kHz. Around midday we tentatively picked up Tahiti on 738 kHz and Tonga on 1017 kHz.

Saturday, January 2

The first trans-Atlantic signals appeared by 2100 UTC, but conditions were poor. WRRD Waukesha WI on 1510 kHz was identified by sheer luck, but otherwise nothing to listen to - except on the other side of the world, where Chinese stations came really well around their local sunrise. North American stations improved after 0100 UTC and grew stronger in the morning, continuing past 1400 UTC. Signal levels were good, but once again stations mixed from too large an area. There were nevertheless a couple of highlights, such as WRTO Chicago IL on 1200 kHz and WRWH Cleveland GA on 1350 kHz. Chinese stations blasted from 0900 UTC throughout the afternoon, and the number of Japanese stations was higher than on previous days. DZAS from the Philippines on 702 kHz was among the best catches heard in real time from Asia.

Sunday, January 3

North American signals appeared at the same time as before. Initially East Coast stations came fairly well, but signals didn't improve to the level of the previous night. Around 0300-0400 UTC there was a change in the nature of conditions. Unlike all previous nights, suddenly only U.S. West Coast stations were heard, although with rather weak signals. Daybreak was extremely poor to all directions. However, by midday U.S. stations emerged again, and instead of an overwhelming mess on each frequency, stations were often heard only one at a time. This would be a good recipe for surprises, but unfortunately regular Canadians tended to dominate the band also today. Asian stations became audible later than on previous days, but improved fast, and overall conditions to China were rather good, and there were more Japanese on the dial than on previous days. There are lots of recorded IDs to be found. In the early evening we got our first taste of Alaska (aside from the regulars heard daily), and identified for example KMBQ in Palintown AK on 1430 kHz.

Outhouse
Our eco-friendly cabin boasts all modern amenities.

Monday, January 4

East Coast stations followed cheerleader WEGP (1390 kHz), but after a moderately good start, most of the night was lousy. Weak signals were heard here and there, with a slight emphasis on the Canadian Prairie and the Pacific Northwest by the morning. In the morning hours the AM band had the marks of some kind of magnetic disturbance: there was a strong hiss all across the band, and instead of the usual mix, few stations. However, this allowed the mumble of the graveyard frequencies to give way to decent signals. For the first time during this DXpedition, local channels had readable signals already around 0700-0800 UTC. During the day conditions were confined to the Western half of North America. Alaskan and Hawaiian stations were louder than on any previous day, but we didn't find anything new. In the afternoon reception of stations from the West cooled around 1400 UTC, earlier than normally. Conditions to Asia were good. Stations faded in later and faded out sooner than normally, but signals were very strong, focusing again on China, with a very brief opening to Thailand just before Europeans finally took over the band.

Tuesday, January 5

Brazilian stations were the first to appear on the dial around 2130 UTC on Monday evening, followed a bit later by North Americans. The few North American stations that made more than a brief appearance were mostly from Minnesota and the Dakotas, and of course the Canadian Prairie, which have tended to dominate the frequencies during our DXpedition. Conditions to Latin America were similarly poor and sporadic, and overnight listening reminded me of typical conditions during less favorable parts of the solar cycle. However, in the morning at 0730-0800 UTC we got our first morning opening to Brazil and Argentina. This was modest compared to last year, but a start anyway. During the day North American stations were focused west of the Great Lakes, with Canadians typically dominating. However, graveyard channels were open, so we expect some nice surprises later on. Signals deteriorated rapidly after 1400 UTC. Asian stations emerged early and strong. There were even more Japanese than before (such as JOHG Kagoshima via Naze, Okinawa, on 792 kHz), but of course usually not during the few time slots when identifying NHK's local outlets would have been possible.

Menesjoki
The sun almost rises above Menesjoki.

Wednesday,
January 6

Trailblazer WEGP was heard after 2030 UTC, but only some Canadians appeared after 2100 UTC. Signals began to improve relatively late, around 2300 UTC, and included also U.S. stations, especially Upper Midwest. Right after midnight we got a nice opening to Venezuela and Puerto Rico, which continued to the morning when nothing much else was audible. Around daybreak we had excellent conditions to Venezuela and Colombia, lasting past 1000 UTC, which we had never experienced before. After the Latinos lost steam, the U.S. East Coast came to the rescue, but in the afternoon conditions to North America were poorer than on any previous day, and the last signals faded away around 1400 UTC. From Asia it was Chinese, Chinese and then some more Chinese stations. I predict a stunning number of station identifications that need native help in interpretation.

Thursday, January 7

A few weak signals from North America emerged at East Coast sunset around 2100-2200 UTC and improved somewhat around midnight UTC. In general the night was very poor to all directions. Some Brazilian and Argentine stations were heard in the morning after 0700 UTC, until as long as 0830, when Radio Rio Cuarto on 1010 kHz from Argentina began its broadcast day. Reception from North America was miserable even during the daytime, and a bunch of stations emerged from the background noise level only when total darkness fell around 1330 UTC - so much like the solar maximum years. Asia on the contrary was again very good with loads of Chinese stations heard for hours. Also more Philippine stations than before, but at least in real time I didn't notice any personal new ones. DWXI dominated 1314 kHz most of the afternoon. So far the best station of the afternoon is HLCX Jeonju from Korea on 855 kHz.

Friday, January 8

Stations from Brazil, Venezuela and the East Coast of North America all began to make their way here at the same time, around 2200 UTC. However, conditions to all directions were poor, and so I decided to sleep most of the night, for a change. Some Latin Americans struggled to be heard in the morning, but North American stations were relatively strong for a couple of hours. Then signals remained barely above noise level for most of the afternoon, before a slight increase of Northwestern stations around 1330 UTC, and disappearing afterwards. Once again the Eastern front was much more interesting. Conditions to the Philippines were extremely good around 1030-1300 UTC, and although I already have almost 50 Philippine stations, I found at least a couple of new ones (DYEZ 684 kHz and DYSI 1323 kHz). Many Philippine stations are on split frequencies, which you can find later in the log. The Chinese were also very strong, and as conditions were more towards the Southern part of the country, I expect some nice surprises on recordings. European stations were remarkably strong all day, even midday local time.

Saturday, January 9

The last night began with Atlantic Canada, Ontario and some East Coast stations around 2100 UTC. North American signals improved a bit after 2300 UTC as the sun set from Minnesota to Alberta, indicating a very familiar focus of propagation. In the morning North America was strong, easily overwhelming Latin American stations. Before midday signals from Alberta and the Pacific Northwest were more powerful than I have ever heard before, and a lot of Alaskans were heard like local stations. Unfortunately after midday it was time to pull the plug, and head home.

The LEM288 crew, Jussi Suokas and Jopi Nyman, arrived after 1000 UTC on Saturday. I briefed them on the conditions and packed my stuff. For the first time I did some DXing even during the return trip. I enjoyed Jari's hospitality - including a hot enough sauna - at his summer cottage in Muhos, where I stayed overnight and recorded some 1.5 hours of Perseus files at sunrise. It was great to be able to divide the return trip into two days, as I was really tired from all the DXing. I finally made it home early Sunday evening, after driving a total of 2520 kilometers (1566 miles), back and forth between Vantaa and Lapland. But I plan to be back in Lemmenjoki in eight weeks time for a third round, which would make this season a personal record of northern exposure.

Published on January 12, 2010

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