Monday, July 29, 2019

Changed the Call, now K7DWI

After living in the 7th Call area for 5 years and being doubtful I would return to the 5th Call Area, I figured it was time to change the call.
I now live in Grants Pass Oregon after 5 years in central Arizona near Prescott.
I had a good time and some good DX in Arizona, but didn't want to confuse anyone anymore. So I figured 40 years with the same long call was enough time.
I am now K7DWI. Luckily no one else beat me to it like what happened in Texas 😀.
I hope to be back on the air soon. A little age and more carelessness has delayed the return.
I will be back.... 73 Art

Thursday, August 30, 2018

2 Years of Monitoring FM Broadcast Es to Prepare for 2-Meter Band Openings

After my first full-time year (2017) doing this activity, it was so much fun I decided to continue it for 2018.
During the late Winter and early Spring of 2018, I decided it was time to retire my 44-year old. trusty, reliable and somewhat bent up Radio Shack (Archer) VUF-125 Log-Periodic with sawed off UHF elements. In the early spring, a major vendor of TV/FM/Cable equipment put on sale a long-range, light-weight VHF/FMBC/UHF antenna for an almost too good to be true price.  So, I bought one.

From Solid Signal: HD8200XL. Cushcraft 2M/70CM Yagi and Ringo Ranger 2 above it.

Since its predecessor was for VHF only, I quickly learned after putting it up that the feedline (RG59) needed to be replaced.  The feed-line had been used for cable runs and had been in the attic for probably at least 20 years. The antenna wasn’t picking up UHF channels very well, so a new run of RG6 replaced it. Much better.

For this 2-Year analysis in 2017, I captured 81 FM Broadcast stations during the Spring/Summer Es Season (April 26 – August 16, 8 weeks prior to & after the Summer Solstice).  For the same period in 2018, I captured 108 stations. A little experience, no 2-Meter Es openings and the change in antenna and feed line helped my 2018 results.

Operating practices and procedures:
  1. My receiver was a RTL-SDR USB connected to a Windows 7 Dell Optiplex Desktop (exception 2 captures in 2018 from the car)
  2. No recording was done with the RTL-SDR (issues and not reliable).
  3. If Ham bands (10, 6 and/or 2-Meters) were experiencing excellent conditions, focus was on them, not FMBC. For the most part, if Es were occurring I tried to monitor FMBC.
  4. I made the mistake of using the same computer for the RTL-SDR and an interface to one my Ham Radio rigs. I could not operate both at the same time. I will not do that next year.
  5.  All stations captured were identified by full call letters, reference to location, slogans, local oriented commercials, RDS and/or PiCodes (Radio Broadcast Data System Program Identification Codes).
  6. Resources used were an April 2018 FCC Database downloaded, filtered and modified from an Excel spreadsheet developed by Bob Colyard (founder of DXWorld that passed away last Spring), the Searchable Online Directory provided by Worldwide TV FM DX Association, FM Fool and
  7. MUF (Maximum Usable Frequency) measurements from the G7RAU Website or his rauMUF software, in addition to SE-PROP by K9SE.
Purpose of the Analysis:

I remind everyone that I am a Ham first. This is a sideline activity, but something I enjoy doing.  I have been an AM/MW/Shortwave listener for over 55 years, VHF/FMBC/TV DX’er for over 45 years (don’t admit a CB’er too for that long), and a Ham for almost 40 years. I earned VUCC’s (100 Maidenhead Grid Squares) on 6 and 2 Meters in 1988. While in Texas, I worked 43 states on 2-Meters and over 200 Grid Squares terrestrial and all on Single Sideband or CW, plus a North American DX record on Tropo.  On 6 Meters, I worked over 60 DXCC entities and well over 550 Grid Squares.  In my over 35 years DX’ing on 2-Meters, I found that identifying VHF TV stations on Channel 6 and FM Broadcast in many cases led to 2-Meter openings to the same general locations of identified broadcast outlets.

I concur that there are better ways, better devices, and better software to do this. They cost a lot more and I am cheap. I enjoy squeezing blood out of a turnip. I prefer getting a lot out of a little. I found this activity to be fun and effective.

Areas Captured:
The map shows Maidenhead Grid Squares captured during the past 2 years. Several single squares were heard multiple times, especially near metropolitan areas, but was surprised by the large number of smaller towns copied. The plots are to the center point of the grid square heard, not the actual point. 

I have captured 94 grid squares the past 2 Es seasons (51 in 2017 & 78 in 2018). For 2018, I had more DX from Mexico, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

What Frequencies Were Monitored Most:
A surprise on these results. Although the distribution for the 2 years were somewhat different each year, the average and median frequencies were about the same for both years.
The average frequency captured was 95.8 MHz, the median was 93.3 MHz. 

My first year I spent my time watching Es build from the commercial low end of the band where RDS and PiCodes were prevalent. 
 In 2018, I experienced better RDS/PiCodes on the low end. I still focused on low end commercial stations beginning at 92.1 MHz.

Distances for FM Broadcast Es

In 2017, a simple 7 segment Histogram showed a close evenly distributed bell curve. The average distance of a captured FMBC station was 1,045.8 miles, the median was 1,040.  For 2018, the average capture was 1,077 miles with a median of 1,080. The trend for 2018 was slightly further captures, fewer short and more longer ones.

Maximum Useable Frequency
The normal characteristic of Es propagation is that as the patches (clouds) intensify, the result is that higher frequencies reflect. All MUF measurements are based on software developed by Dave Edwards G7RAU and Jim Loop K9SE.

In 2017, there was a smooth decline in captures as MUF increased. This was expected.
I was always looking at the low end of the broadcast band looking for the first indications of Es, then moving up the band as it was evident that it was intensifying.
In 2018, more openings towards Mexico commercial stations with RDS and PiCodes which further allowed me to identify them. Overall, fewer MUF’s above 115 MHz.
For 2 years they measured MUF for all captures was 101.6 MHz (+/- 0.6 for 2 years) and the median 99.9 MHz (almost no change both years).

Distance and its Relationship to Maximum Useable Frequency
Since I had a fair sampling of FMBC captures, I could do a sampling of these to see if a trendline could be determined.

Indeed a Trendline was identified. The trend was the shorter the distance, the higher the MUF. In addition, after 2 years, there appeared to be what I would call a “Sweet Spot”, a cluster of distance and MUF. The “Sweet Spot” is 1,000 miles and equates to an approximate MUF of 100 MHz.
Once 900-mile distances appear, MUF increases significantly. In 2018, although a higher MUF was experienced it did not equate to a 2-Meter opening (Pacific Ocean).

Conclusions and Ideas:

I did not experience any 2-Meter Es this season. I only heard a couple of short bursts to my east. That was unexpected and disappointing. There was only one very high MUF event that I could determine, and it was out to the Pacific Ocean. 
So, after a couple of years of doing this my thoughts and conclusions to help my 2-Meter efforts are:
1.   It is all about distance. Shorter distances equate to a higher MUF. Long distances on FMBC are nice, but don’t result in Es openings on 2-Meters.
2.   Instead of moving up the band to determine a higher MUF, monitor a narrow range and observe paths becoming shorter to indicate a rising MUF. Anything less than 700 miles should be considered as an extremely high MUF.
3.   I want to develop a method to measure amplitude of an intensifying Es opening or a peaked and declining one (new project for the future...thank you BR in AZ)

It has been fun the last 3 years doing this. The investment of my $17 RTL-SDR and a $70 Log-Periodic was well worth the results in the end.  
I also admit that at times doing this activity tended to draw my attention away from the Ham activities. I am a Ham first. This activity was to help supplement my pursuit of a new VUCC on 2-Meters.

I have already come up with plans to improve the operation next year. Tweaking is always a necessity. I know to do this better, I need to make improvements. 

Not sure what next year holds. I always hope to share with you all the fun I have doing this.

73 Art Jackson KA5DWI/7

Thursday, July 12, 2018

FMBC Es for 2018

It was a good Es Season on the FM Broadcast Band.
Just no 2 Meter Es.  I think there has been some opportunities, just wrong direction.
Here is the list for the Spring/Summer. Almost 30 more captures than last year.

I plan to post some statistics from both seasons (2017 & 2018) soon.

Es 6/04/18 UTC (-7 hours MST) from east of Prescott AZ DM34
93.3 KKSP AR Bryant 1021mi 01:58 RDS - The Fish
93.1 KGCX MT Sidney 1014mi 17:34 ID - Eagle 93
92.1 KZRX ND Dickinson 988mi 17:39 ID - Z92
93.7 KIZZ ND Minot 1086mi 17:41 Local Commercial
93.3 KMXV MO Kansas City 1027mi 17:53 ID - Mix 93.3
93.7 KTUF MO Kirksville 1148mi 18:03 ID - K Tough
93.7 KYEZ KS Salina 864mi 18:06 ID - Y93.7
97.1 KELN NE N.Platte 791mi 18:16 ID - Mix97.1
88.9 KRNW MO Chillicothe 1087mi 18:33 ID via WX Report
all received with a $17 RTL-SDR, HD8200XL log-periodic & SDR# software.

Es 6/07 UTC (-7 Hours MST)
92.7 KVCK MT Wolf Point 1000mi 14:30 ID-RDS
92.1 CHMX SK Regina 1170mi 14:38 Local Commercial Ad
93.3 KIOA IA Des Moines 1129mi 14:42 ID-RDS
92.9 KATF IA Dubuque 1287mi 14:55 ID- Kat FM
98.1 KHAK IA Cedar Rapids 1226mi 15:18 ID-RDS
92.1 KORN SD Parkston 989mi 15:40 ID-RDS

Es 6/17 UTC (-7 Hours MST)
92.1 XHPMAZ SIN Mazatlan 859mi 23:54 RDS La Caliente PiCode:9210

Es 6/19 UTC (-7 Hours MST)
91.9 KDSU ND Fargo 1162mi 00:54 North Dakota Public Radio
92.7 KGFX SD Pierre 924mi 00:59 ID at TOH
91.5 CKLQ MB Brandon 1214mi 01:40 ID Q-Country PiCode:CD3F
92.1 KZRX ND Dickinson 988mi 01:47 Local commercial, Slogan Z92 Relog
94.1 CFGW SK Yorkton 1250mi 01:57 ID Fox FM PiCode:C1BA
97.1 KYYX ND Minot 1088mi 02:08 ID Kyyx (Kicks) FM
96.3 CFWD SK Saskatoon 1253mi 02:16 Talk about city, Slogan Cruz-FMCKFI
97.1 CKFI SK Swift Current 1107mi 02:20 RDS Magic 97.1 PiCode:CC94
100.3 CJVR SK Dafoe 1245mi 02:27 RDS ID PiCode:CB8E
101.5 CHQX SK Price Albert 1316mi 02:35 RDS ID X-FM Sask's Rockstation PiCode:C58B

Es 6/19 Morning & Afternoon  Times UTC (-7 Hours MST)
I was copying the FT8 mail on 6-Meters all morning. It suddenly died out. I turned on SDRSharp.
I was doing some work on the computer when I looked up and saw the waterfall lit up.
6 Meters was still for the most part, quiet. SO here goes...
92.3 WHHG TN Milan 1324mi 14:50 ID, The Hog PiCode:67E0
93.1 KZLE AR Batesville 1160mi 14:54 ID
93.1 WTJS TN Alamo 1309mi 14:56 ID, Talk of Jackson (TN)
96.5 KSPW MO Sparta 1074mi 15:10 RDS Power 96.5 PiCode:4124
98.7 KWTO MO Springfield 1073mi 15:16 Sports "The Jock"
99.7 KBTN MO Neosho 1009mi 15:40 ID No music all Yak.
99.3 KTPG AR Paragould 1222mi 15:50 Commercials, Jill Radio
100.5 KEGI AR Trumann 1219mi 15:56 RDS, ID, The Eagle PiCode:1B34
Honey Do Time
100.5 KVWF KS Augusta 869mi 16:00-:45 RDS PiCode:49B5
106.3 KRZK MO Branson 1080mi 17:11 ID Country
93.5 KMYK MO Osage 1119mi 17:53 ID, 93.5 Rocks
102.5 KKDY MO West Plains 1150mi 18:00 ID TOH, RDS PiCode:2ACE
Hospital run
104.5 KMYZ OK Pryor 940mi 19:04 RDS The Edge PiCode:3239
106.5 KKIK AR Horseshoe Bend 1148mi 19:11 ID Outlaw 106.5
105.9 KGBX MO Nixa 1083mi 19:18 RDS PiCode:2009
106.3 WQRL IL Benton 1330mi 19:38 ID Local Commercials
106.9 KTXY MO Jefferson City 1129mi 19:42 ID PiCode:449A
107.3 WDDD IL Johnston City 1316mi 19:50 ID as W3D PiCode:5CE5
107.3 KLPW MO Steelville 1177mi 19:51 RDS ESPN Sports PiCode:2EA8
107.9 KCLQ MO Lebanon 1119mi 19:57 ID now.. Renegade Radio
Heard what I beieve may have been "Alabama. A reference to a TV station WAKA.
Had to leave
Hospital run #2. In the car. 2013 GM Terrain
92.7 KRZP AR Gassville 1121mi 20:19 RDS K92.7
91.7 KCVX MO Salem 1172mi 20:19 RDS Spirit FM

Es 6/20 Morning and Afternoon Times UTC (-7 Hours MST)
Southern flair this morning, then a little more north this afternoon.
90.1 XHRYS TAMPS Reynosa 1014mi 18:11 RDS Hits FM PiCode:9001 Note:FCC DB shows 2430W
92.1 XHPMAZ SIN Mazatlan 859mi 18:17 RDS La Caliente PiCode:9210 Relog
93.3 XHEDT MEX Toluca 1330mi 18:30 RDS Grupo Siete PiCode:9310 ID by Website station listings.
94.5 KFRQ TX Harlingen 1036mi 18:39 ID, Local commercials. Talk about rain.
94.9 XHTEC NL Monterrey 940mi 18:48 RDS FREC-TEC Telephono PiCode:3712 Talk
96.5 XHMSN NL Cadereyta 968mi 18:54 RDS Dominio FM Talk PiCode:997B
92.1 KRLS IA Knoxville 1146mi 21:00 RDS PiCode:3E14 News/Weather
93.7 KNTK NE Firth (Lincoln) 950mi 21:06 Chicago Cubs Baseball
95.7 KQWC IA Webster City 1134mi 21:14 RDS PiCode:327E ID

Es 6/21 Afternoon Times UTC (-7 Hours MST)
92.7 WBKL LA Clinton 1255mi 20:55 RDS PiCode:585B K-Love
92.7 KIVY TX Crockett 998mi 21:10 RDS PiCode:275A Country
89.7 WPAE MS Centreville 1251mi 21:22 RDS PiCode:7C48 ID Phone# Gospel (Note: Called them to let know they were heard in AZ) In for a long time.
90.7 KLSA LA Alexandria 1157mi 21:30 RDS PiCode:2EE0 NPR
93.1 KTYL TX Tyler 1009mi 21:44 ID Mix 93.1
89.9 WWNO LA New Orleans 1335mi 21:59 ID New Orleans Public Radio
88.3 KJRN TX Keene 871mi 22:07 RDS PiCode:298B 88.3 The Journey
92.7 KJVC LA Mansfield 1082mi 22:13 PiCode:29E8 In and Out

Es 6/22 Late Morning Times UTC (-7 Hours MST)
92.3 KGON OR Portland 933mi 17:59 RDS PiCode:2151 ID
93.7 KRLZ OR Waldport 934mi 18:16 RDS PiCode:3E1B Now "The Wave 93.7" Mention of Lincoln City and website.
92.7 KNCU OR Newport 941mi 18:23 ID U-92
Note: Probably most of the reflection was into the Pacific Ocean. The last 2 captures are on the Pacific Coast.

Es 7/08 Early evening 7/07 UTC (-7 Hours MST)
92.1 KCRK WA Colville 1010mi 00:27 PiCode:170C ID "Awesome"
93.7 KDRK WA Spokane 931mi 00:33 ID "93.7 the Mountain"

Es 7/10 Late Afternoon before the dinner bell. UTC (-7 Hours MST)
93.7 WTNM MS Courtland 1267mi 23:08 PiCode:8832 RDS Slogan "Supertalk MS (Mississippi)
93.3 WSYE MS Houston (Tupelo) 1334mi 23:13 Local Commercials, "Sunny 93-3"
92.1 KDQN AR De Queen 1023mi 23:20 ID Local Commercials
93.7 KHBM AR Monticello 1173mi 23:24 Slogan Southeast Arkansas, SeeArks Choice Classic Rock

Es 7/12 Morning Times UTC (-7 Hours MST)
89.3 XHRRR VER Papantla de Olarte 1335mi 15:32 Reference to Huasteca, commercials Vericruz
91.5 XHMLS ZAC Zacatecas 1002mi 15:41 Classic Hits (English)
91.3 XHMLS TMP Matamoros 1066mi 15:45 PiCode RDS "Exitos 91.3" ALso heard in car @ 16:25
91.9 XHEC COH Sabinas 802mi 15:47 PiCode RDS "La Mas Buena"
97.7 XHRW TMP Tampico 1218mi 15:54  PiCode RDS "Los 40 Principales"
99.3 XHNK TMP Nuevo Laredo 900mi 15:59 RDS ID Spanish Hits
100.3 KTEX TX Mercedes (McAllen) 1037mi 16:13 PiCode RDS and ID "K-TEX" Also, still heard @ 17:22
104.1 KBFM TX Edinburg 1037mi 17:27 PiCode RDS "Wild 104"
100.9 KSXY CA Forestville 653mi 17:41 PiCode noted RDS "The 101 Alternative" Note: Shortest capture in 2 years
In car:
90.1 XHRYS TMP Reynosa 1015mi 16:25 RDS and ID "Hits 90.1"

Es 7/22 Playing the CQ VHF Contest this morning. UTC (-7 Hours MST)
88.1 KAYT LA Jena 1157mi 17:33 Good ID's In/Out
89.3 WRKF LA Baton Rouge 1258mi 17:39 Good ID also In/out

Es 7/23 Best morning opening in over a month. UTC (-7 Hours MST)
92.7 KGFX SD Pierre 924mi 14:56 ID "River 92.7" In/Out
92.3 KEZO NE Omaha 997mi 15:03 Slogan Z92
91.9 KQSD SD Lowry 983mi 15:28 Excellent reading RDS & PiCode, Public Radio
92.7 K224AA MT Missoula 856mi 15:33 1st AM Translator @175W of KGRZ-1450, Sports Dan Patrick
93.3 KSJZ ND Jamestown 1101mi 15:38 RDS PiCode and ID. "Mix 93.3"
93.1 KGCX MT Sidney 1014mi 15:41 Local commercials, Classic Rock
95.5 KYNU ND Jamestown 1121mi 15:57 RDS PiCode Local Commercials
105.9 KMIT SD Mitchell 980mi 16:03 ID "Call the KMIT Hotline"
105.1 KQWB MN Breckinridge 1161mi 16:06 RDS PiCode Q105 Headbanger Music
106.5 KRJB MN Ada 1199mi 16:20 RDS PiCode ID Note: Hung around a while about 30 min.
106.1 KEXS MO Ravenwood 1040mi 16:40 EWTN. Catholic Network. Talk
107.3 KBBK NE Lincoln 954mi Local Commercials
96.9 KIAQ IA Clarion PiCode ID

Es 7/24 UTC Late afternoon (-7 Hours MST)
92.7 KISY TX Blossom 958mi 00:06 PiCode 270C In/Out
93.1 XHAAA TMPS Reynosa 1014mi 00:20 RDS PiCode

Es 7/29 UTC Morning (-7 Hours MST)
93.1 XHAAA TMPS Reynosa 1014mi 16:27 PiCode Slogan ID LaCaliente
88.1 KNTU TX McKinney 870mi 18:15 ID "The One" playing Jazz

Es 8/04 Morning UTC (-7 Hours MST)
89.9 KYMS ID Rathdrum 961mi 16:45 Local talk, Animal rescue Spokane/Coeur d'Alene

Es 8/13 Morning Between Dr. appointment and Phoenix run. UTC (-7 Hours MST)
100.9 KOWZ MN Blooming Praire 1198mi 16:22 Local commercials, Live Stream verify
100.5 KIKN SD Salem 1004mi 16:30 Local commercials, Mixing with another station.
98.7 KISD MN Pipestone 1082mi 16:37 ID, Oldies Mixing with PHX station
99.7 KKCK MN Marshall 1080mi 16:52 RDS PICode ID

RTL-SDR, HD8200XL Log-Periodic and SDRSharp software
2013 GMC Terrain Car radio
Near Prescott Arizona Grid Square DM34

2018 FMBC Grid Squares Captured
Some SDR# Screenprints this Es Season:
Es Signal next to my most powerful local, K-LOVE

FMBC Es have lots of fading.

92.1 MHz is my normal hangout. My local is low powered over a mountain.

Happy times is an RDS & PiCiode

Es on Steroids. Semi-locals overrun.

Better luck this season with Mexican RDS & PiCodes

By now I am screaming CQ on 144.200

Look for short distance strong stations for indications of Higher MUF.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

FT8 is Addictive

I am still struggling with the benefits of FT8.
I just can't deny the results.
Here is a 24 hour display of my 6 and 10 Meter results yesterday, July 10.
10 and 6 Meter Heard/Heard By/Worked
I call FT8 "Casual DXing".
You sit back and let your eyes and computer do the work.
Still love the old-fashioned ways, but you can't knock it until you try it.
73 Art

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Using a Software Defined Radio (SDR) on the FM Broadcast Band to Foretell 2-Meter Band Openings


    I have always enjoyed the DX’ing hobby. It started for me during the Fall/Winter of 1961-62 when I suddenly started hearing “Clear Channel” AM Broadcast stations on a 6-Transistor radio. Then living in Houston, Texas it wasn’t too uncommon to see a central, south or southeast Texas TV station on our Rabbit-Ears sitting on top of the Black & White television.
    In the early 70’s, I put up a good outdoor log-periodic VHF/UHF-TV/FMBC antenna, a Citizens Band 4-element Yagi and a rotor to turn it.  My DX’ing focus changed from medium and short waves to the higher frequencies (11 Meters, VHF and UHF).  Besides living in Tropo Heaven (Houston), I started to experience some great Sporadic Es on TV Channels 3-7 and correlated it to activity on CB and Ham Radio 10-Meters.
    In 1978, I had moved to Fort Worth, Texas and by 1979 finally became a Ham. Of course, 10 Meters was my favorite HF band.  A few years later (1982), an interest in Amateur Radio satellites helped me acquire an all-mode 2-Meter transceiver. Once I worked a couple of Tropo openings and my first 2-Meter Es opening, everything in my Ham Radio life changed.
    I put back up the V/U/FM Log-Periodic and hooked it up to my old 13 inch Black/White Zenith TV (used as a monitor for my Timex/Sinclair Satellite Tracking computer). I actively began monitoring TV reception to use it as a tool to gage whether a 2-Meter DX event was going to occur. I also started using my car/truck radio to monitor the FM Broadcast Band.  Later on, I added a 4-inch B/W TV to the truck attached to my 5/8 wave 2-Meter vertical whenever I travelled.
    I was able to correlate events on Lower Channel TV and FMBC to Es openings on 2-Meters.  I could operate 10 & 6-Meters and look for shortened paths, including backscatter.  I could also observe TV and/or listen to FM and do my best to identify what I was seeing or hearing.  After a few openings, I learned that if I saw and identified a Channel 6 TV station or a FM station on Sporadic Es, if 2-Meters opened, it was to that same general area of the TV or FM station.  A few times, exactly to the place I monitored.  I used it to my advantage. For most of the first 5 years on 2-Meter SSB and again for a short term in 1990-91, I ran 30 watts out on 2-Meter SSB.
    Most good things sadly come to an end.  Living in Dallas/Fort Worth area, I saw it grow from 3 to 6.5 million people. So did the number of FM broadcasters multiply over that period.  A number of outlying town’s FM stations expanded their coverage.  Before, the vast majority of transmission towers were located to my south-south-east. A few new ones were now to my northeast. The final insult was the local PBS affiliate (KERA) pulled out an old approved license for TV Channel 2 (UNT or N. Texas State) and killed that frequency for monitoring.  Channels 2, 4, 5, and 8 were now occupied locally. KERA-2 was a failure and sold it to a Gospel of Wealth religious organization.  In the end, HDTV took over and most stations moved to UHF.
    I took a hiatus from VHF/UHF DX’ing from 2008-14, pulled down the tower and antennas, retired in 2014 and moved to the upper desert of Arizona.  I set up shop in Arizona by the beginning of 2015 and starting working on new VUCC’s.

Now in Arizona
    Unfortunately, I moved here towards the second peak of Solar Cycle 24.  Despite what others tell you, this solar cycle had an adverse affect on VHF propagation. 2 Meter Es openings have been far and few between. 6-Meters has had good moments from time to time, but has not had a long period opening (24 hours) in many years. 2015 was okay, 2016 was a bit of a stinker season and finally 2017 has seen a very good improvement despite a few quiet periods.
    Trying to work VHF Es can be challenging at times here in Arizona. The best distance for single hop Es tend to be in low Ham Weak-Signal populated Grid Squares. Timing to populated Grids has been way off so far. Much of my Es DX has actually been Double-Hop Es. This year, my average distance for a 10-Meter Es PropNET capture (1,883) was 300 kilometers longer than the next closest average participant. Of all the major PropNET participants (23), my captures were 500 kilometers longer than the overall average (1,348).
    For quite a number of years (late 90’s) on the Internet, I had visited DX World operated by Bob Colyard of New Jersey ( Bob had set up various lists for the DX enthusiasts. Hams from HF to UHF, special modes, and SWL’s all had a List to post their latest DX accomplishments. I have reported many a 2-Meter Es, Tropo and Aurora opening, as well as 6-Meter Es and F2 openings before reporting to other sites such as DXSummit, DXScape and DXMaps became more common. Thanks to well known VHF DXer Pat Dyer - WA5IYX, the TV/FM Skip Log ( ) became a popular place to share various VHF and UHF propagation events.  The genius that Pat was also led to many a discussion about Es.  I used it from time to time to gauge what was happening on VHF and once I moved to Arizona, I shared with the others what I was observing here.
    Once analog TV ended in the U.S., followed by Mexico and dwindling in Canada, the Logger was concentrating more on FM Broadcast Band DX.  I felt a little disadvantaged here.  I can DX with the best of them, but other than my radio in my car I did not have a receiver that could decode FMBC RDS and PI Codes. When you are working DX on 6-Meters and trying to raise 2-Meters from the dead, it is a little tough trying to identify FMBC stations when your attention is on other matters.

Looking For Solutions
    Software Defined Radio has really made its presence known the past few years. Technology works wonders. It has happened so fast, I haven’t been able to keep up. I had seen advertisements for a number of devices ranging from $150 to $450.  Being retired and wanting to put my money behind more beneficial things such as Ham Radio, I really didn’t want to spend a lot of bucks on something used a little.  Hams are notorious for spending themselves into debt for things they don’t use or get that much out of.  I have always done my best to squeeze blood out of a turnip.
    Towards the end of the 2016 Spring/Summer Es Season, I looked for a SDR on Amazon. Cookies got me and started seeing ads for them whenever I visited a website that allowed cookies.  Shortly after, I saw an ad for a RTL-SDR for $17. What did I have to lose?  I purchased a couple of other items I needed to get free shipping (the wife refuses to join Prime).  A few days later I had the RTL-SDR.

    Instructions for these devices are a little short, but if you are a tech-nerd you figure it out. I had 4 old computers (two XP, one Vista, and one Windows 7) and quickly found out that the Windows 7 laptop was the best computer to use.  I also had to order a couple of SMA feed-line connectors, one with a female F-Connector and one female BNC. As for software, SDRSharp was used when Windows 7 was the operating system. I liked the ability of picking up RDS and software that is free.
    I had a myriad of antennas to plug in and struggled with which ones to choose. I settled on a FM-Turnstile (crossed dipoles) about 20 feet up the tower and hoped for a high MUF before the Es season ended. Luckily, a high MUF occurred. I was absolutely stunned what I was picking up. It was a good late season Es opening (8/05) and nearly every FMBC frequency on the low end was active. I did pick up several Louisiana and Texas RDS call and slogan identifications. I never expected that result with a multi-directional antenna. I tried out the log-periodic, but by then conditions had deteriorated.
     I spent the fall and winter trying the SDR on other frequencies (Aviation) and several Ham bands, but I just got more enjoyment on FMBC.  I did acquire a refurbished Windows 7 Pro desktop to operate a computer to Ham Rig interface along with the RTL-SDR. I was active this year on 10-Meter PropNET (last year WSPR) and wanted the flexibility of doing my automatically controlled digital station and the SDR on the same computer. My Log-Periodic has an advantage over the turnstile with forward gain and being able to null out strong (semi)local stations.  
Two Dell Desktops. The RTL-SDR overwhelmed by cables.
45 year old Archer V/U/FM-125 Log Periodic (UHF elements removed). 
A FM Turnstile (omni-directional) antenna is mounted about halfway up the tower.
    As Radio Shack was closing, I picked up a higher quality Antenna/Cable switch for both FM/TV antennas and placed it behind the desktop computer where the RTL-SDR was placed.  With a lot going on in my personal life and little time, I got it together as best I could for the 2017 Spring/Summer Es season.

Editorial Comment
    First of all, there are a number of excellent devices, and I would expect by the cost of these that they will outperform the RTL-SDR.  In addition, there are a number of software packages at a cost that maximizes their capabilities.  I do this for one simple reason, to help give me an edge to maximize my goals and pursuits in Ham Radio Weak Signal activities. I place my attention and my fixed income finances on that first.
    This activity using the RTL-SDR comes secondary and does a support role.  I chose the RTL-SDR device because it was inexpensive, the SDR Sharp software because it was free and I already had the outdoor antennas in use for DXing over many years.

This can be done better, but I argue it can be done as well as cheap.☺

Dewey, Arizona east of Prescott in the Lonesome & Skull Valleys
Grid Square DM34un
Elevation 4720 feet

First FMBC Es Event – August 5, 2016
The RTL-SDR was plugged into my Windows 7 Toshiba Laptop and the FM Turnstile hooked up.
Four (semi)local FM stations are appearing. 93.9 Flagstaff @ 51 miles, 94.3 Chino Valley @25 miles, 94.7 Prescott @ 12 miles (behind a mountain peak) and 95.1 Sun City West @ 23 miles  & 41 kW.

This is what a quiet band looks like from my home in central Arizona.

The same spectrum shown on Steroids during a high MUF and intense Sporadic Es opening.
Identifying the Early Signs

Sporadic Es usually show up on 10-Meters first. The easiest way to detect them is to listen for CW beacons between 28.2 and 28.3 MHz. Today’s new Ham tends to not copy CW very well. If so, use a computer to read them. There are real-time propagation reporters called CW Skimmers and show there spots on sites such as DXMaps. But unless you live close to a Skimmer, there is not much of a guarantee for your conditions. Active SSB chatter on the phone frequencies tends to show up later into the opening. Another way to know of 10-Meter openings is to capture PSK31 PropNET transmissions on 28.1186 MHz.  I have been active with them almost 15 years.

Once 10-Meters has been open consistently for around 15 minutes, you should be checking out 6-Meters. Like 10-Meters, there are a large number of beacons between 50.05 and 50.08 MHz. You can also listen to the SSB call frequency 50.125 MHz and up in frequency to 50.200.  A little troubling this year was a large increase in WSJT digital modes (FT-8 & MSK441). Yes it makes easier to DX QSO’s, but it really removes the excitement of exchanging a signal report, name and QTH by voice or CW. Once you notice that the path is getting shorter in distance then it is time to be watching for opportunities building to 2-Meters.

Here is where using this SDR device helps. One can visually see on the software spectrum to what Es are beginning to do.  First of all, be familiar to where local and semi-local stations are located. Use online sources such as, FCC FM Query or

I am blessed to be located in an area in which the major population centers (Phoenix & Tucson) are to my South to Southeast.  My VHF DX interests are in other directions. On this screen, the closest FM station (92.5) is weakened by hills and a mountain.  The others are 50-60 miles away.

Example of a normal FM Broadcast Band with no DX.
As the MUF of Sporadic Es increases, the incoming Es signal is full of rapid fading.  It is easily identified on the waterfall of the software, SDR#. The in and out fading signals appear as beads on a bracelet.
Weak Es signals begin to appear on 91.9, 92.7 and 93.3 MHz. A second signal is also appearing with local 92.5. This opening appears to have a small footprint.
Sometimes the beginning of an Es opening shows more opportunity. It might be a larger coverage footprint or a more populated area.

On these examples, nearly every FM channel is showing a growing Es opening.
If the Es opening continues to develop and intensify, the waterfall will show the resulting stronger signals.

The rapid fading conditions are still evident on strong signals.  Once signals approach 15 db above the noise floor, you have a good chance to decode RDS and PICode information.
Once you identify a FM broadcast station, begin to concentrate your 2-Meter efforts in the direction. My experience has been throughout the years that if and when 2-Meters opens, it will be in that direction and many times to the specific area you heard on FM broadcast.

A good sign in a FM Broadcast band Es opening is the stabilizing of conditions. Fading is less and the waterfall looks more like locals or Tropo. As the amplitude increases, it is time to see what the upper part of the FM band looks like.

These screen prints show a stable Es opening. Fading is much slower to non-existent.  It is time to look at the upper portion of the FMBC band and call on 2-Meters.
Looking at the lower end of the FMBC band (88-96 MHz) became addictive many times. Being the first year using a SDR, I was having so much fun watching it develop that I was ignoring the top part (104-108 MHz) of the band.

Once you see openings at the top part of the FMBC band, the chances of having Es conditions on 2-Meters really improves.  By now you should be sending CQ on 144.200 MHz and listening for others. Conditions here can help you be ready on 2-Meters.
Recognize and identify the FM stations as quickly as possible. Have a website, such as DXWorld-TVFM LogFMList or the Worldwide TV FM DX Association to help you narrow down the choices.
Once you identify a station, look for the distance between you and further identified stations becoming shorter in distance. This indicates a rising MUF. Once Es make it to 2-Meters, the chances are that it will be at the farther location you first identified.
Example: From here in Arizona, I hear and identify a Seattle WA FMBC station. Minutes later, I hear and identify a closer Portland OR FMBC station. The 2-Meter opening more than likely will occur around Seattle WA.

I cannot promise you great results, but I can assure you that being aware of these conditions and using these methods will improve your chances of working great distances on 2-Meter SSB next Es Season.

2017 Spring/Summer FM Broadcast Catches with the RTL-SDR

Monday, September 11, 2017

10- Meter Sporadic Es Have Returned

A Review of the 2017 Spring/Summer Sporadic Es Season on the 10-Meter Amateur Radio Band

At the end of 2015, I wrote an analysis on the affects of Solar Cycle 24 on the Spring/Summer Sporadic Es season.  ( The lull between Cycles 23 and 24 was the longest in modern radio history. During those years (2005-2011), Es propagation was exceptional. In particular, there were many multiple-hop Es opportunities and on many occasions good openings would occur late into the night and into twilight.
By 2011, Solar Cycle 24 finally had taken off and it was apparent that it affected Es conditions. By the 2012 season, activity had declined sharply. As solar activity remained active and peaked twice, in continued hold down good Es propagation for several years.

This Solar Cycle (24) has been what I call anemic. It was one of the least active cycles since the early 1900’s and the lowest in radio’s history. It was foretold by Jim Kennedy, K6MIO/KH6 in 2011 at the Central States VHF Society Conference. The magnetic north and south poles of the Sun swap as part of a normal solar cycle. For Cycle 24, these poles were out of sync and to expect a low and poor peak of the Cycle. Jim was right on the money. There was no 2-Meter Aurora in the southern half of the U.S., and I know of no FAI reported on 2-Meters either. 6-Meter F2 was almost non-existent.  There was some 6-Meter Trans-Equatorial propagation, but nothing close to what was experienced during Solar Cycle 23.
What was unexpected to me was that Geomagnetic Activity continued to increase after the Cycle peaked. I am not a Physicist, but I believed this increased activity kept putting a lid on a return of Es after the first Solar Activity peak (11/11).  After a disappointing 2016, a few out there wondered if Es propagation was a thing of the past. There we some moments during that Spring and Summer that looked promising, but nothing lasted over a period of days.
Over the Fall and Winter of 2016 into 2017, solar activity started to drop like a rock and geomagnetic activity looked to be declining. I anxiously waited for an improvement. Es did not disappoint.
The end of Solar Cycle 23 and the beginning of Cycle 24 occurred in 2008. It took 6 years to peak, normally occurs in 4-5 years. By late 2011, F2 propagation became common place on 10-Meters during the Fall, Winter and early Spring,
Somewhat puzzling was the rise of geomagnetic activity (measured as Ap Index). Confusing was a decline in 2014, but understood as the peak of solar activity (solar flux & sunspot number). It was more active in 2015, peaked and remained active for 2016.

Notes for All PropNET Activity Charts
1.  All charts reflect all North American PropNET PSK31 captures on 10-Meters during the recognized Spring/Summer Sporadic Es season (58 days each side of the Summer Solstice). Other continent PropNET captures were removed unless it was an Es capture of/from a North American PropNET participant.
2.  All captures considered non-Es (F2, TEP, Ground Wave, or Scatter) were removed from this analysis.
3.  Any captures that were not verifiable by a legitimate Callsign or grid-square were also removed.
4.  All 10-Meter captures used occurred from UTC dates April 25 through August 15-18, approximately 8 weeks, plus a few days each side of the Summer Solstice (June 20-22).

So what has happened the past nine years to 10-Meter PropNET Es captures?
Once solar activity increased, Es propagation began a slow decline in 2010. Once solar activity took off, it dropped rapidly and reached its bottom in 2014 the peak of solar activity for Solar Cycle 24.  Recovery has been very slow and finally returned to much better levels this year. The increase was dramatic, just as the decrease between 2011 and 2012.

Hourly Activity Patterns over the Years

Each year is different somewhat, but activity generally shows a dual-peaked diurnal (daytime). The solar and geomagnetic active years (2012-2016) are quite distinguishable. 
The hourly chart is shown in Sunrise, to Sunset, to Evening, and into Twilight in order to better show peaks in activity.  In North America, the Sun rises on the East Coast during the 10th hour UTC, and sets on the West Coast around the 3rd hour UTC.  It is solar noon along the Mountain/Central time zone border at the 19th hour UTC.

Regardless of year or solar affects, Es activity soars once the Sun rises and peaks just after mid-morning. Most years, this is the best time for Es.  Activity declines as Noon passes, but peaks again a couple of hours before sunset.  Once the Sun sets, Es rapidly decline.

Dramatic Rise of 10-Meter Es in One Year – 2016 vs. 2017

The Sunspot Numbers and Solar Flux finally started to decline more rapidly in 2016 and again into 2017.  In fact, the rate of decline was much greater than what was experienced between Solar Cycles 23 & 24.  Geomagnetic activity was not declining at the same rate. I knew that the year would be better, but I just did not know how good it would improve.
A greater than 2½ increase in activity is something to not recognize. This was greatest change between years since the decline from 2011 & 2012.  The rate of growth for PropNET captures was far greater than Non-PropNET, an indication that the lack of conditions the past few years has run off many 10-Meter PSK31 operators.
Due to the lower total count, the number of hours active does not show the dramatic rise in activity. Note that the number of hours active increased from less than one-half of the day to two-thirds.  To put it in terms of the Spring/Summer Es season, in 2016 Es were confined to daylight an hour and a half after sunrise and before sunset. In 2017, it extended an hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset.

Intensity per Open Hour

I learned in my past analyses from 2005-2011 that as active hours increased, so did the intensity of that active hour.
There were near 600 more Es active hours in 2017 than 2016, with an average of 49 captures per active hour rather than 19.

Daily Activity

During the lean years and peak of Solar Cycle 24, it was extremely difficult to determine the beginning and end of the Spring/Summer Es season. At the traditional beginning (last week of April) and its end (middle of August), high solar activity had a strong affect. Between, it was difficult to determine the peak of the season (the week of the summer solstice).  By 2016, consistency in Es propagation seasonal daily patterns finally began.
By 2016 a more standard pattern of a typical season was evident and a polynomial trend line could be calculated. Despite the return to this pattern, there were a number of days in which little to no propagation occurred.

Note: The scale of this chart is 3 times greater than the 2016 graph.
Despite a slow start, each day of the entire season was greater than the prior. 

The polynomial trend line finally followed what had occurred in past good years. This was that the season actually does not end by mid-August. It actually ends at the end of August.

Active Hours for Es Propagation

In 2016, the influence of the Sun was still evident. The season started off well, but failed to be more intense towards the Summer Solstice. The end of the season turned out to be highly productive compared to the traditional peak (solstice).

In 2017, Es became much more productive. There were more numerous 24 hour active days and many over 20 hours. This had not been seen since 2011.

Cumulative 10 Meter Captures

The following charts closely display actually how many 10-Meter captures occurred each day of the season and at what rate.
For 2016, the average number of 10-Meter captures was 213 per day. The period from 6/12 through 6/24 saw higher rates. The remainder tended to fall short.
On the other hand, 2017 the average number of 10-Meter captures was 781 significantly higher. The most productive time began again on 6/12, but this year lasted until 7/9. The season ended very strongly as well.

Hourly Activity and Intensity

The following charts show total hourly activity for the 2016 & 2017 Es season through North America. They are displayed in sunrise, to sunset, to evening, to twilight order to best display the diurnal (daytime) pattern.

Regardless of year or point in the Solar Cycle, the dual-peaked diurnal in prevalent most years. 

Note: 2017 scale is 3 times larger than 2016. Each hour of the 2017 season was higher than 2016 and was very similar in pattern. 
There were 116 measured days in this analysis. In 2016, most of the daylight hours were open over 50% of the days.

In 2017, most of the daylight hours were open 75% of the days.

Distribution of PropNET Participants
Listed below is 99.5% of the North American 10-Meter PropNET catches.
Grid Sqr.

The table shows that many of us out here on the west coast were lonely. Rich, WD4RBX has always been one of the best performers. It is not that the West Coast states have bad propagation; there was not much population of PropNET participants west of the Mississippi River.  We really need to improve this next year. I consistently had good 6-Meter propagation to the Central and Southern Plains, as well as the northern Rockies and Northwest. We just had very little and late participation out here on PropNET.
I concentrated on pointing at the PropNET population, and it resulted in me having an average PropNET capture length short of 1,900 kilometers almost 300 more than anyone else on the continent. 

It really was a great year, the best since 2011. There were some bad days and at times elevated solar activity. I would expect another great year next season as solar activity continues to decrease. The recent (September 2017) surge in solar and geomagnetic activity was expected and should be short term. Do not think this recent surge has any real meaning. You might think of this as Cycle 24’s last gasp.

Es are back. I hope you got a chance to play. Thank you East Coast and you out here in the west need to put out a signal next year.

Active Days
The following days for this Spring/Summer Es Season had over 2,000 10M PropNET and Non-PropNET captures for the UTC day.

Note the concentration of signals east of the Mississippi River.
This was very common through the season. I thought this was a bit late in the season for a very active day. 

This was the most active of the entire season and I didn’t get to participate that day.

Another day in which the eastern half of the continent had most of the fun.

One of the better days out west.   Ou captures require more distance and double-hop. 

Later season activity.

Another light day out west.

Generally there is an outstanding day around this date. It was one of my most productive days.

Final Thoughts
Spring/Summer Sporadic Es are back.  Had we had a few more stations west of the Mississippi, no telling how active it would have been.

My philosophy and experience is Es beget Es. They show up on 10-Meters for a number of minutes, they appear on 6-Meters. Once strong and intensive on 6, there are good chances on 2-Meters.

I expect a few good years are ahead of us. Don’t miss it!
Please join us next year. A good time should be had. Expect more Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific.
I enjoy doing this, but only if more of you participate. Lurking is participating too.

 Thanks again for reading and I hope it added to your understanding that this band (10-Meters) isn’t dead when the solar cycle drops.

73 Art Jackson KA5DWI/7 Arizona