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LEM291 DXpedition Report
February 26 – March 6, 2010

by Mika Mäkeläinen

For the first time I combined a family winter vacation with DXing. We shared a cabin with Jim Solatie's family in the Saariselkä ski resort in Lapland, and after a freezing but fun week I and Jim drove to Lemmenjoki for the last DXpedition of the season. During the first week skiing was limited because of temperatures hovering around -20 to -30 degrees, but fortunately on the following week the AM band turned out to be hot. This combo vacation was a success, as we got a bunch of new stations, and our wives have not divorced us, at least not yet.

Cottage on slope
The southern slope of Mount Kaunispää in Saariselkä, close to our rental cottage.

On Friday, February 26, I drove my family from Saariselkä to Rovaniemi to catch an overnight train home south. Finland's national railroad company VR made history by departing and arriving on time despite the snow and ice.

I shopped for groceries and headed back above the Arctic Circle, which runs just north of Rovaniemi. The roads were unusually quiet, probably because most people were home watching the Olympic ice-hockey semi-finals. Finland suffered a colossal loss to the U.S. in Vancouver, so I certainly didn't miss anything while driving in crisp -30 degree weather to Lemmenjoki.

Fell with forest
Kiilopää mountain in Saariselkä in the distance

The cabin was already stocked with receivers and all the rest. I had visited Lemmenjoki with Jim briefly on Monday, February 22, to leave some automated recordings. They worked only partially, and the conditions were not stunning, so we don't expect any historic discoveries from those Perseus files. However, as soon as I arrived on Friday evening, the AM band was full of North American stations, so I slept only for two hours during the first euphoric night. Jim joined me on Sunday afternoon after his family had flown south from the Ivalo Airport.

Propagation conditions during our week turned out to be good, but very different from what we had expected. We were hoping to hear some stations from Australia and New Zealand, maybe also from Thailand and the rest of South East Asia. On the western front, this time of the year should have been good for instance for targeting Peru.

Trees on fell
Ice-covered trees near the top of Mount Kaunispää in Saariselkä

Eventually we probably got nothing new from Australia or New Zealand, but enjoyed good conditions to China for hours every day, as well as moderate to good conditions to Japan in the early afternoons. To the west, U.S. stations were heard pretty well every day, and also on several nights, with a bunch of Mexicans, often heard for many hours after sunrise. All in all, conditions favored higher latitudes than expected. There were no spectacular historic openings to any particular direction, but steady average or above average conditions guaranteed a huge amount of recordings, which should yield also nice surprises.

Here is a summary of the solar weather indices during our time in Lemmenjoki:

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 NO
AA
STAR NO
AA
Daily low- high Planetary Boulder C M X
22.2.2010 83.7 15 14 4.1 4 0-6 11011112 11121211 314-369      
23.2.2010 84.2 42 31 1.8 2 0-6 21000010 22110210 298-358      
24.2.2010 82.6 31 40 3.0 3 0-12 13000101 13011100 307-353      
25.2.2010 82.7 28 30 2.1 2 0-7 10000012 10110112 314-384      
26.2.2010 80.5 23 26 1.9 2 0-5 10000001 20000010 296-373      
27.2.2010 78.6 11 26 1.8 2 0-4 00000111 10001100 285-314      
28.2.2010 78.1 11 13 2.3 2 0-4 00101101 02011211 285-335      
1.3.2010 79.3 37 36 5.3 5 3-7 11112212 22112321 297-379      
2.3.2010 79.4 37 39 4.1 4 0-7 00022212 10022212 339-386      
3.3.2010 80.4 37 39 5.9 6 0-9 12022222 22122322 355-421      
4.3.2010 81.3 38 40 6.3 6 0-15 23202111 13202201 334-441 1    
5.3.2010 79.5 0 35 2.5 2 0-5 00111101 00222211 350-404      
6.3.2010 78.3 22 0 3.3 3 0-9 20001111 20101102 321-377      
7.3.2010 76.6 12 0 4.3 4 0-12 23200001 22300000 346-424      
(information collected by Jan Alvestad)

What was remarkable is that in the afternoon Far Eastern AM stations began to appear as early as four to five hours before sunset, and in the morning U.S. stations continued to be heard up to six hours after sunrise in Lemmenjoki. Oh, the joy of solar minimum... It will be interesting to compare the times in our logs to this table of local sunrise and sunset times:

Date Sunrise
in Lemmenjoki
Sunset
in Lemmenjoki
local UTC local UTC
22.2.2010
8:10
0610
16:54
1454
23.2.2010
8:05
0605
16:58
1458
24.2.2010
8:01
0601
17:02
1502
25.2.2010
7:57
0557
17:06
1506
26.2.2010

7:52

0552
17:10
1510
27.2.2010
7:48
0548
17:14
1514
28.2.2010
7:44
0544
17:18
1518
1.3.2010
7:39
0539
17:22
1522
2.3.2010
7:35
0535
17:26
1526
3.3.2010
7:31
0531
17:29
1529
4.3.2010
7:27
0527
17:33
1533
5.3.2010
7:22
0522
17:37
1537
6.3.2010
7:18
0518
17:41
1541
7.3.2010
7:14
0514
17:45
1545

In our series of close encounters with the Arctic wildlife, we saw more reindeer around the cabin than ever before. It turned out that one of the local reindeer owners' associations was moving its herds to higher grounds through this area, and so reindeer were passing our cottage almost daily. This time of the year the reindeer are beginning to leave their winter feeding areas, heading up to the fells, where snow is exposed to the sun and melts faster - making it easier to find lichen on the Arctic tundra.

Reindeer
Reindeer on ice close to our cabin

Also, some reindeer had been domesticated by the neighboring households, and although they are free to roam around, they always return home, where food is more plentiful than in nature during this exceptionally harsh winter.

We also got a taste of Lapland, quite literally. Our neighbor Aslak - who has a very traditional Lappish first name - kindly gave us some freshly cut and frozen reindeer meat, with hair and all, from his snowmobile loaded with pieces of a butchered reindeer. Reindeer meat is the basic staple of the region, and a valued delicacy in all of Finland.

reindeer meat
Rudolph the red-boned reindeer

As our cooking expertise is limited to heating "Kitchen Joy's" Thai meals in a microwave oven, we wondered how on earth are we going to prepare these chunks of meat into a culinary treat. Eventually we decided to boil them, as game meat may not be very tender. Obviously we didn't boil them long enough, as the meat was still rather tough for my taste, and Jim wouldn't even dare to take a single bite. For the record, I survived without any stomach ailments. Reindeer meat does have its unique taste, which is definitely worth trying if you ever get a chance - and a cook more experienced than me.

Let's focus again on the essential... This was not a culinary adventure, but an expedition to discover something new on the AM dial. Most of Lemmenjoki's dozen or so Beverage and longwire antennas were used at some point, although clearly the best antennas were a wire pointing to the Northwest at 319 degrees, and another pointing to the East at 55 degrees, used for Asian stations.

Cabin
DXing headquarters of the North

Around 2200-2300 UTC we hunted for U.S. daytimers, and after that we tried to figure out which trans-Atlantic region the overnight conditions would favor, to leave automated Perseus recordings for the top-of-the-hour slots. In the morning we woke up before sunrise, and usually enjoyed good reception from the Western Hemisphere until around midday. In the afternoon, it was all Asians until about 6 p.m. local time. Here is a more detailed look at the reception conditions on each day:

Saturday, February 27, 2010

I got my stuff organized after 2100 UTC on Friday evening, which was a perfect timing. After 2130 UTC several U.S. East Coast stations emerged with decent signal strength and continued for 14 hours. Although the end of February isn't ideal for hunting daytimers, several daytime stations were noted. Among the best catches early evening were WDER Derry NH on 1320 kHz, WEZS Laconia NH on 1350 kHz and WIZZ Greenfield MA on 1520 kHz. KGOW Bellaire TX on 1559.937 kHz stayed on full power through the night. There were a few scattered Latin Americans overnight, including a fair opening to Venezuela around 0245 UTC. Morning goodies included XEIB Caborca SO on 1170 kHz, along with the more common XEUVA. In the afternoon, the first Far Eastern stations overcame static before 1100 UTC, after which Chinese stations dominated the Asian scene for hours. No sign of the coveted Aussies or Kiwis.

Mika Mäkeläinen
Mika Mäkeläinen

Sunday, February 28, 2010

On Saturday evening trans-Atlantic signals arrived later and weaker than on the previous night, and reception improved a bit only after solid darkness fell over the East Coast. However, conditions to all directions remained poor, and nothing worth mentioning was heard. As a sign of desperation I even ventured to the 60 meter shortwave band, where common South American stations were heard fairly well. In the morning XETOT Tampico TM 1190 kHz rose on top of the pile at midnight local time for full station identifications and the Mexican national anthem. After daybreak a selection of North American stations tilted towards the West Coast. Asians, led by the Japanese and northeastern Chinese, appeared already after 1000 UTC, which is remarkably early this time of the year. For example, from Heilongjiang two thirds of the signal's path to Finland was in bright daylight! Japanese stations were booming, and the NHK1 regional break at 1255 UTC yielded some very nice catches, including JOQC Fukaura on 1584 kHz. Later in the evening, WTWW Lebanon TN, a new shortwave station, was heard strong and steady on 9480 kHz, making its first appearance here.

Jim Solatie
Jim Solatie

Monday, March 1, 2010

Trans-Atlantic reception was poor through the night, but even after all signals seemed to disappear in the morning, there was a nice opening to Venezuela and the U.S. East Coast at around 0630-0830 UTC, after which the AM band became mostly silent. Spanish stations were also heard with local and regional breaks around 0600-0700 UTC. A second fairly new shortwave station made its debut in Finland around midday as Voz Missionária from Brazil was heard on 11749.869 kHz in the 25-meter-band. Japanese and Chinese stations emerged forcefully around 1115 UTC and dominated the band for hours.

Kaunispää tower
Digita's antennas on top of Mount Kaunispää

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Despite high expectations, again no daytimer activity on Monday evening. Initially overnight conditions seemed poor, but conditions improved towards the morning, and around daybreak North American stations were stronger than on any previous day. Also stations from the lower end of the dial were heard, including a bunch of the most regular Cubans. Our catches include WQAM Miami FL on 560 kHz and Radio Ciudad Habana on 980 kHz. Stations from Coast to Coast were heard, and because of the sheer amount of stations, especially graveyard channels degenerated into noisy CBC-dominated frequencies. U.S. stations prevailed until around 1100 UTC, which is almost six hours after sunrise in Lemmenjoki. That's also when the first Asian stations began their typical five-hour onslaught, first it was the Japanese, and later on stations from further south along the Pacific Rim - though unfortunately not all the way to "down under".

Perseus screeshot
The entire AM band on Perseus

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Brazilian stations were the first to cross the Atlantic around 2100 UTC, later joined by stations from Argentina and Uruguay, all going relatively strong through the night. After "A Voz do Brasil" ended at 2300 UTC on Tuesday, we identified for example Rádio Camboriú, Balneário Camboriú SC on 1290 kHz and Rádio Frequencia, Garopaba SC on 1380 kHz. There were only sporadic signs of North American stations. In the morning all trans-Atlantic stations vanished soon after sunrise, around 0530 UTC. A handful of Venezuelan and U.S. East Coast stations reappeared at 0700 UTC. A narrow slice of the East Coast was audible, allowing for example the reception of WNBF Binghamton NY on 1290 kHz. Just before 0900 UTC the propagation path jumped to the Pacific Northwest, and we got a nice opening to Oregon and Nevada around 1000 UTC with stations like KBZZ Sparks 1270 kHz and KWNA Winnemucca 1400 kHz. Asian stations began fading in gradually around 1300 UTC, much later than on previous days. The emphasis was on lower latitudes than before, including a few Philippine stations logged after 1400 UTC. From China we identified for instance Tangshan PBS on 684 kHz and Qingdao PBS on 819 kHz.

Forest at dusk
Magical forest at dusk in Saariselkä

Thursday, March 4, 2010

This was probably overall the poorest day this far. Brazilian stations began to invade our dials after 2130 UTC and continued rather well through the night, though not quite as strong as on the previous night. Hardly any North American stations were heard overnight and very few in the morning. After sunrise all trans-Atlantic signals vanished, but fortunately at least British and Spanish stations were exceptionally strong. There was a long daytime lull without anything to listen to, until Asian signals started pouring in after 1230 UTC. Initially there were a lot of Japanese stations, then very strong signals from China for a moment, and by 1500 UTC also some Indian and Pakistani stations, which had been almost completely absent on previous days. By 1600 UTC Iranian and Arabic stations had become dominant - along with Europeans, naturally.

Mika frozen
Freezing, but at least it is sunny

Friday, March 5, 2010

On Thursday evening conditions to Brazil began even earlier than before, around 2115 UTC, just as the sun was setting in northeastern Brazil. The first U.S. East Coast stations were heard around 2345 UTC. Initially reception was better from southern latitudes, but by early morning U.S. stations improved, and we had a good opening to Mexico at 0730-0900 UTC, including XERLA Santa Rosalía BS on 940 kHz and KEYS Corpus Christi TX on 1440 kHz. The best part of the propagation this morning was that stations kept changing, so we hope to find more than the usual suspects in our recordings. Graveyard channels were once again open fairly well. In the afternoon the first Asians appeared around 1130 UTC, disappeared after 1300 UTC and re-emerged by 1400 UTC. Reception was more sporadic than before, and we heard many of the most common Philippinos with huge signals around 1500 UTC. Soon after that stations from the Middle East and Europe took over.

Changzhou People's Broadcasting Station on 747 kHz

Changzhou Radio was logged on March 10th, 2010, one of the top catches of the automated recordings left in Lemmenjoki. Changzhou was also one of the last identified stations that I found almost two years after the DXpedition. My Taiwanese friend Jeff Ting eventually identified the station. Despite the delay between hearing the station and reporting it, my reception report to the station in February 2012 made headlines all around China. For the signal to travel 7,000 kilometers to Finland was regarded as quite exceptional. One of the first papers to publish news about it was yzwb.net (Yangtse.com), and it was picked up by dozens of newspapers in China, as well as Xinhua news agency and numerous postings on Sina Weibo (Chinese Twitter). Thanks to the publicity, I got several emails from ordinary people from all around China. Hopefully a few more Chinese now know what DXing is all about.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

No daytimers were spotted in the early evening, and results from overnight depend on whatever happened to get caught in our recordings, as we desperately needed to get some sleep before driving home. Jim left already after 6 a.m. local time to catch a train south, while I stayed until past midday, for as long as U.S. stations continued to be heard. I then drove down close to Oulu, staying overnight at Jari Ruohomäki's cabin in Muhos, once again doing some DXing around sunrise, before finally driving south on Sunday. We also left some automated recordings in Lemmenjoki to capture new Asian stations using the Beverage antenna pointing at 55 degrees for the upcoming few weeks, as ours was the last DXpedition of the season.

This was a fairly successful and extensive DXpedition, so I would guess that the LEM291 DXpedition log will not be ready for publication until some time in 2011 (edit: turned out to be 2012).

Published on March 11, 2010 (slightly edited later)

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