Anatomy of a medium-wave TP opening

Sept 16 opening 2016


This time of the year (the Fall) we look forward to enhanced signals from distant locations; for example, trans-pacific, trans-atlantic, trans-continental and international signals from within the same hemisphere.

So what are the key things to success when the endeavour is picking up signals on medium wave from across the Pacific (or the Atlantic) - here are some starting points.

  1. A fairly quiet coastal location - even an urban setting. Your success almost depends on a location that is relatively free from electrical interference. Noise from appliances and gadgets is the bane of our hobby and does not appear to be getting better.
  2. A decent receiver - fact is, on the west coast of North America we can often get great reception of Japan, China, Korea and Australia on some very basic radios - even portables - with their own built in whip antennas or ferrite loops. The key: A quiet location.
    Many radios are more than sensitive and selective enough to get great DX on a budget. We have never had better radios. 
  3. If you want to dig deep, consider an outdoor antenna suited to medium wave DXing - like a KAZ, a Loop, A flag, even a long wire or beverage style antenna. This aspect of DXing deserves an article all to its own. I should write it.
  4. Timing! Trans pacific DX is at its peak between 2 hours before and sunrise. For some reason, sunrise can give an amazing boost to TP signals - just as sunset gives a boost to DXers living on the East coast chasing the (much easier to catch) Europeans.
  5. Know where to look! Believe it or not, your first TP DX is going to jump right out at you, being so obvious you will ask yourself, "Why didn't I notice this before!?" Hey, most people do not realize that they can hear San Francisco clear as a bell all the way up to the Gulf of Alaska. That said, your first Japanese you will hear will be on frequencies like 594, 747, 774 and 828 khz - often at levels you would think would be more local.
  6. Resources! Subscribe to mailing lists like the IRCA one, or web link to online spotters like the one to the right - the Nick Hall-Patch DX Fishbarrel shows minute by minute openings to the West coast on all channels usually during hours of darkness. It is priceless for figuring out when the DX is in!
  7. Timing: DX season for TP reception is late August through November - sometimes later and from February through late May. Trans-atlantic reception from the west coast is often heard from September through Christmas but on a much more sporadic basis. On the East coast, TA reception is remarkably commonplace - I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia one August and I was hearing TA's and South American stations prior to sunset!

Check out the NHP Fish Barrel screen shot to the right - it showed a very good opening with very good signals on all frequencies - at this stage of the game, signals would have been audible on the most basic receivers with the most basic antennas.

NHK Radio JapanThe picture at right illustrates how the medium wave dial lights up when there is an opening. And openings happen on an almost weekly or daily basis during the peaks of the season. Having spotter sites on the internet make detecting the action that much easier. The first hint of this red hot opening was revealed while checking on the NHP Fishbarrel on my iPhone in the kitchen during one such opening - and seeing that there was a red hot opening indeed! - downstairs to the shack I went!

There was no question that this was unusual. Audio on 531 (Japanese) revealed that there were good things to come.

As I tuned up the dial on the Drake R8, signal after signal was revealed - knowing that my time was propabably very limited I just grabbed the iPhone, turned on the video and started sweeping up the dial; 531, 540, 558, 567, 576, 585, 594, 603, 612, 621, 639, 657, 666, 675, 702, 747, etc.

There seemed to be no end to the number and quality of signals. And it seemed to get better for around 5 minutes before starting to settle into the post dawn "swoon" as GAry Debock calls it.

One of the joys of the morning was hearing Korean on 819 - which is a pretty rare appearance indeed! 

As you can see, chasing Trans-pacific and Trans-atlantic radio signals from North America is fun, challenging, quite doable and exciting!

You can even send reception reports to some of the stations you hear and receive QSL cards like the one on the left.

In a World where we listen to 100's of countries with no effort on an internet connection, it is quite cool to do it the old fashioned way; not tied to an internet connection but experiencing radio that is real and immediate.


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