The Ford Ranger pickup I had for eight years had a superb radio. It was extremely sensitive, and its noise floor was very low. A couple of extra feet added to the whip made it one screaming DX machine. It suffered a little from ignition noise under acceleration, but be gentle on the gas and she would quiet.
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For example, cruising east along I-40 out of Flagstaff, AZ last April, I chased Los Angeles' KFI-640 (50 KW) to within an hour of Albuquerque, NM. I started out in Flagstaff at 6 AM and drove for six hours until I lost KFI-640 in the noise just about noon. Of course at the outset their signal was full skywave strength as the sun was just rising. As the sun rose, it faded through steadily decreasing peaks and nulls till about 10 AM when it entered this sort of echo-ey nether-world, the signal just barely above the noise. Then it would fade for longer and longer periods nearing 30 minutes between peaks, in and out of the background noise. Audio would be readable for a few minutes, then enter a long fade again. And then it vanished totally. In the end, it was a daytime reception of 600+ miles. That's a taste of what you're in for.
The newish 2011 Honda CR-V I got this summer doesn't fare as well in the radio department. The noise floor is high, masking ultra-weak DX, and it desenses more readily near big signals. No ignition noise, though. None. Sensitivity is only fair. Overall the radio is a disappointment for mediumwave. I'll carry the recently-acquired RF-2200 along instead.
Now, most of what I report is directed at daytime reception, though much of DXing theory applies to nighttime skywave as well. The key to successful DX, I've found, at least in crossing the wide open western states, is to park yourself on a frequency and just listen. Listen for hundreds of miles if necessary. You will see the progression of fade in to fade out, and the interaction of co-channel stations come and go. Pick a few favorite frequencies, or try some promising new ones, and see what happens. It's kind of like fishing in a stream - don't be too anxious to pull your line out too soon.
One of the main routes I follow when crossing the country is Interstate 70. I-70 runs from near Baltimore, MD through the central US states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado to the I-15 junction in western Utah, about 50 miles past Richfield. From Rochester, NY, our starting point, access to I-70 means a trip southwest to Columbus, OH via the I-90 thruway. I-90 leads you west across the bottom of Lake Erie to Cleveland, OH, then southwest via I-271 and I-71 to Columbus to join I-70.
Notable at the outset right out of Rochester is the massive 50 KW signal of WWKB-1520 at Buffalo, NY, pushing a nicely-formed cardiod pattern slightly north of east from its three-towered array. Sitting perfectly in the cardiod's notch is tiny, adjacent-channel WMCE-1530 (1 KW) at Mercyhurst College in North East, PA, broadcasting AM-stereo, and only 65 miles southwest of the 50 KW monster. Now this is a marvel of pattern engineering, sandwiching a 1 KW adjacent-channel signal right next to a 50 KW blockbuster, both of them sitting right next to huge fresh water lakes! And it works, too. 1530 KHz is filled with horrendous WWKB-1520 splatter as you pass Buffalo. Within 20 miles, WWKB-1520's hash and desense have evaporated to nothing, revealing the oldies-radio format of WMCE on 1530. Somebody should get an award for this engineering. WMCE-1530 is a great station, by the way.
I overnight at Mansfield, OH, off I-71 and about 60 miles south of Cleveland. In the dark just before sunrise, Denver's KOA-850 is weak, in and out, more out than in, but it does make an appearance. KOA-850 is difficult though not impossible to hear in Rochester, at 1430 miles distant. Here, near Mansfield, at 1175 miles, it makes the trip a little more easily. What's a few hundred miles you ask? Ohio's WKNR-850 in Cleveland (4.7 KW at night) beams north and we are south of them about 60 miles in somewhat of a dead skip zone. But the big difference, and something I stand by after years of DXing, is the single hop skip distance factor. Extreme single hop skip distance at mediumwave is on the order of 1300-1400 miles. We are within KOA's single hop skip distance at Mansfield. Rochester, NY is just barely outside that distance. Beyond that skip distance, signal strength takes a distinct downward turn, making reception that much harder.
Onward to Columbus, still dark, the famous Grand Ole Opry station WSM-650, Nashville, TN (50 KW) is in solid due to skywave. The sun will rise and it will be with us all day across I-70 almost to the Mississippi River, through the states of Ohio, Indiana, and most of Illinois. 650 KHz is an interesting and somewhat vacant frequency. Only a handful of stations in the lower 48 (seven to be exact) broadcast on 650 KHz, three of them broadcasting under 10 KW power output. From the Mississippi River west, more than 400 miles of dead air reigns until nearly central Kansas, where little KGAB-650 at Cheyenne, Wyoming appears out of the northwest. At Orchard Valley near Cheyenne, still some 400+ miles distant at this point, KGAB-650 commands amazing coverage for an 8.5 KW monopole. The secret here is the excellent ground conductivity of the mid-west, that is, the land west of the Mississippi River. A pipeline of mediumwave signals barrels east out of the front range of the Rocky Mountains across Kansas where ground conductivities hit 30 mS/m and the land is flat and treeless.
WJR-760, Detroit, Michigan (50 KW) hangs with me most of the day too. In fact, it was with me all day yesterday too. It's coverage is incredible. I can hear it weakly in Rochester during daytime hours. Today it hangs in there through Indianapolis nearly to the Illinois state line. Early afternoon, the corn-belt starts to appear, namely, WHO-1040, Des Moines, Iowa (50 KW) at 300 miles.
Overnighting in East St. Louis, this year I veer off I-70 and head south to Springfield via I-44, diverting into the beautiful undulating, treed-hills of central and southwestern Missouri. In this part of the country, roughly the center of the US land-mass, with a quick spin of the dial just before sunrise you can log all four sides of the continent within one minute - WSB-750, Atlanta, GA, WWL-870, New Orleans, LA, WCCO-830, Minneapolis, MN, and KFI-640, Los Angeles, CA. I tried it again. It never fails to impress me. Cuban stations are often in as well. Sunrise in Cuba.
Daylight breaks, skywave is dissipating, and out of Springfield, Missouri this morning the plan is to cross southern Kansas via US 400 to Greensburg, the town 95% destroyed by the EF5 tornado in May, 2007, then northward to Fort Hays. I park my radio on 630 KHz, 650 KHz, and 850 KHz, waiting for something to show up out of Denver or Cheyenne. I didn't have long to wait. In southeastern Kansas, 50 miles east of Wichita near the Butler County line, I hear evidence of carriers on the Honda radio. I pull over and get out the RF-2200. All three stations have readable audio - KHOW-630, Denver (5 KW at 487 miles), KOA-850, Denver (50 KW at 472 miles), and KGAB-650, Cheyenne (8.5 KW at 510 miles). It is late morning, just past 11 AM. KHOW-630 is perhaps the surprising catch. Its two-towered array pushes signal to the southwest into the Rockies and only about 3.8 KW is directed at southeastern Kansas on a beam of 106 degrees.
Nebraska's big-gun farm station KRVN-880 at Lexington (50 KW) is in there all the way across southern Kansas, broadcasting livestock reports. Greensburg is interesting, and gives off an eerie feeling as I pass through. Many new steel buildings, but also many vacant lots, some with concrete steps to nowhere. At Fort Hays, back up along I-70 again, the two Denver stations and Cheyenne are now armchair copy at only at 310+ miles. It is 3 PM in the afternoon. Onward to Denver tomorrow.
Just minutes west of Denver's mile high location lies the continental divide and the massive Rocky Mountains. Relatively poor ground conductivity along the 245 mile path to Utah (2 and 8 mS/m) and towering 14,000 ft. mountains take their toll on westward-propagating signals from the Denver area and east. By Grand Juction, a mere 215 miles, KOA-850 has disappeared, leaving only a weak KLTT-670 (50 KW) and weaker KKZN-760 (50 KW), both Denver area multi-towered arrays that push the brunt of their signal west. 40 miles further along I-70 at the little ghost town of Cisco, Utah, only KLTT-670 remains, extremely weak but readable.
|Camp near Cisco, Utah. Quiet!|
I leave I-70 and camp in the barren desert hills just beyond Cisco at mid-afternoon. The RF-2200 reveals Albuquerque's KKOB-770 (50 KW at 310 miles) with readable signal. One time here several years ago at mid-afternoon I clipped 60 feet of wire to the truck's whip and strained for Los Angeles' KFI-640. It was weak, yet readable, at 600 miles. But talk about quiet, even my cell service has disappeared. Moab is 40 miles to the south. Now camped, both at nightfall and daybreak I listen for WWL-870, New Orleans (50 KW). Nothing. WWL-870 is a medium-tough catch in western Arizona, but absent at this time.
Recent talk has been of defunct Spanish language KXOL-1660 (10 KW daytime, 1 KW nighttime), out of Brigham City, Utah, up by Salt Lake City. The FCC has canceled its license due to expiration of its silent status filing. It has reportedly been heard on the air. I listened on 1660. Nothing on daytime groundwave (a little too far for Brigham City), but skywave at night is strong, particularly right after sunset. They identify as "La Raza", which is what KXOL identified as. I can only conclude that this is indeed KXOL as reported. Further south, near Blanding, UT and beyond, this station and another Spanish station mix. My guess is the other is KTIQ-1660 out of Merced, CA. Not a positive ID, but they mentioned area locations.
|Near Moab, Utah|
One of the most beautiful drives in the country is the 30 mile drive through the Colorado River canyon on Utah 128. Much of the canyon is narrow, between towering, sheer rock walls, with the road clinging to one edge and the river many feet below. Few signals penetrate. Grand Junction's KNZZ-1100 signal (50 KW and only 65 miles distant) is in and out during the drive. Out of the canyon and into Moab proper, it is strong. One station is in the Moab area, KCPX-1490, a 1 KW graveyarder at Spanish Valley, just south of Moab. Two Grand Junction stations are the next closest, KNZZ-1100 being one of them. We are getting into lonely mediumwave territory here..
While in Moab, the side-trip south along the muddy-brown Colorado River to Intrepid's Potash Mine is always a great experience. At the mine complex the road ends in a dead-ended, washboard mess of rocky jeep trails. I sit down for lunch and listen for Los Angeles' KFI-640 again. Nothing. Two years ago KFI-640 on the truck radio was very readable at the noontime lunch hour. Distance, 570 miles. It was later in the year, though, further into fall. That may have made the difference. A funny place for any mediumwave station to show up, really. We are still deep within canyon walls. Isn't propagation interesting?
Headed south the next day at the noon hour, we enter Indian territory. Navajo to be exact, the largest Indian reservation in the US. At about 130 miles distant, KNDN-960 (K-Indian), out of Farmington, NM (5 KW) pops up. They broadcast almost entirely in the Navajo language. If you've never heard the Navajo language, listen for it sometime, it is a treat. English words are interspersed where no Navajo word exists to describe the modern noun or action. With us all the way from Cisco is the other Navajo station, blockbuster KTNN-660, Window Rock, AZ (50 KW). Much of their broadcast is in the Navajo language as well. Both stations intersperse Indian pow-wow dance music between their usual country-western format, another listening treat.
I overnight at Flagstaff, AZ. Headed out early the next morning, KFI-640, Los Angeles is prominent on skywave. It is with me the remainder of the six hour, 300 mile drive to southwestern Arizona where Los Angeles is a mere 217 miles distant and Mexico is but 85 miles south. Familiar KBLU-560 out of Yuma, AZ (1 KW) reappears as an old friend south of Kingman, AZ, nearly 275 miles distant.
Settled in my western home, fall and winter DX is at hand! I'll try out the new Panasonic RF-2200 and see what she can do.