Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring 2011 DX Notes - Phoenix To Denver

A trip across the country is always an enjoyable experience for a mediumwave radio DXer if he has a radio along. While on the road, traveling coast-to-coast presents many different DXing situations and opportunities to observe interesting propagation conditions.

Never being much of a nighttime driver, about 95% of my traveling is during daylight hours. This works out well for me since my particular radio passion is long distance daytime DXing. Cruising along at 70mph in a 2006 Ford Ranger pickup, radio on, tuning up and down the dial searching for weak stations at the lower end of the broadcast band where signals seem to propagate better - life is good.

I stewed about what route to take. Early April weather can be unpredictable and nasty in the high Rockies of Colorado. A trip through this area at this time of year can be tricky. This year I elected to avoid the possibility of extreme weather and travel the I-10 corridor from southwestern Arizona to Denver by way of Phoenix, Tucson, skirt along the Mexican border to Deming and Las Cruces, New Mexico, then parallel the front range of the Rockies northward by following I-25 via Albuquerque and Las Vegas, NM on in to Denver. This leg of the trip back to New York will cover some 1100 miles.

Wednesday April 6

Phoenix is a curious mediumwave city for its size. An unknown fact to many people, Phoenix is currently the 6th largest city in terms of population across the United States. In recent years it has regularly traded places with Philadelphia for positions five and six. As big as it is, both in population and physical area (a huge 517 square miles, 60+ miles across), Phoenix has only two 50,000 watt AM stations within a 25 mile radius of its center, and these are not even in Phoenix proper but in suburban Glendale and Tempe.

So, heading south on I-10 out of Phoenix, the lower powered Phoenix stations fade quickly. Tempe's 50KW powerhouse KMIK-1580 Radio Disney outlet seems to hold in there the longest. Approaching the north side of Tucson, some 100 miles distant, I start to hear some competition from another station on channel. They are broadcasting the Rush Limbaugh program. Confused I am, as my guide shows no other station on 1580 KHz near enough to cause interference. At the top of the noon hour when I hear the ID, the station turns out to be Tucson's conservative voice KNST-790 (5KW), being received strongly on its second harmonic of 1580 KHz! KNST's harmonic hangs in there all the way to the southern extent of Tucson, 20 miles from the transmitter site. I press onward towards the New Mexico border via Benson (north of Tombstone) and Willcox, through the lands of Cochise and the old Chiricahua Nation.

KFI-640 (50KW), Los Angeles is a mainstay of mine in southwestern Arizona during the winter. It is usually on at home or in the truck if I'm out running around. At 217 miles distant, it cannot be considered a local. But its signal is always there, and at good strength. I once heard KFI in mid-afternoon on this same truck radio from the Utah ghost town of Cisco, not far from Grand Junction, Colorado, some 594 miles distant! KFI gets out. Now at 1330L, cruising along I-10 in eastern Arizona and just east of Benson at mile marker 316, I tune for KFI. There it is, still in there but very weak. This, at a distance of 477 miles. KFI fades by mile marker 345, some 506 miles at this point, just past Willcox and only 50 miles shy of the New Mexico border. KFI transmits an omnidirectional signal with a single tower.

Perhaps the most remarkable station to put a daytime signal into southwestern Arizona during my winter stay is North Salt Lake City's sports-talk KALL-700 (50KW). It is receivable on this same truck radio during daytime hours with a weak to medium strength signal all day long. We are talking about a distance of 517 miles here, consistently. Between Benson and Willcox at 1334L, at mile marker 321 I tune for KALL. There it is at 617 miles, though very weak. I am only some 20 degrees off its four tower main lobe of 190 degrees. Understand, at this point, I am perhaps 40 miles north of the Mexican border hearing KALL's Salt Lake City, Utah signal. And during mid-day! KALL fades as I enter the western reaches of New Mexico.

At mile marker 352, ESPN's El Paso, TX station KROD-600 (5KW) is heard at 1405L with a respectable signal. This at a distance of 194 miles.

Crossing the border into New Mexico at 1445L, I tune to 850 KHz looking for powerhouse KOA (50KW) out of Denver. There it is, extremely weak and barely copyable. I have heard Denver radio twice during the daylight hours in southwestern Arizona in the form of KKZN-760 and KLTT-670 at extreme distances of nearly 700 miles, but never KOA. KOA makes the grade here at 554 miles.

Spent the night in Deming, NM, 30 miles north of the Mexican border. Tiny Columbus, NM, right on the border and just south of here, is the site of the famous Pancho Villa raid on the United States in 1916. Excepting the 9-11 attack, it is the only time the continental U.S. has been invaded by a foreign power.

Thursday April 7

Out of Deming the next morning I elect to take the shortcut around Las Cruces. State highway 26 juts off to the northeast, bringing me out to Hatch, NM, and I-25 about 40 miles north of Las Cruces. I am now heading northbound. Approaching Truth or Consequences, the only town named for a TV game show, I hear XEJUA-640, Milenio Radio, Juarez, Mexico, advertized at 500 watts and with a good signal. Juarez is just across the border from El Paso, TX, and due south of me right now at a distance of about 105 miles.

Albuquerque flies by with hardly a blink. Notable and famous in this part of the country is The Talk Monster, KKOB-770 (50KW). With a passive loop assist, it is weakly receivable in southwestern Arizona at 446 miles. For some reason, during daylight hours it seems to propagate better to the west than other directions, as this station basically disappears off the dial in Denver and points north and east. It seems odd that an omnidirectional tower would propagate differently in different directions. KKOB does run two towers at night, with its main lobe to the southwest at 248 degrees. Interestingly, KKOB is one of those rare stations running a synchronized repeater station for signal "fill in". The repeater, also using call letters KKOB, is in Santa Fe, NM, the next fair-sized town just north of Albuquerque. However, the distance between the repeater station up in Santa Fe and KKOB-Albuquerque is only 48.9 miles. Odd, it seems to me, that they need a repeater to fill in at such a close distance, considering KKOB's 50,000 watt signal blankets such a wide area around Albuquerque. I cannot detect KKOB's 230 watt repeater signal as I go by Santa Fe. As far as I know, I am still locked on to the main signal out of Albuquerque.

Proceeding north, at 1429L and 40 miles south of Las Vegas, NM, I find Denver's KHOW-630 (5KW) with weak signal strength at 304 miles. I am only about 12 degrees off of KHOW's main lobe at 200 degrees.

All the way from Deming, through Albuquerque, right up to Las Vegas I have been following El Paso's KTSM-690 (10KW) with good signal strength. At 1501L, arriving at Las Vegas, KTSM's strength at 258 miles is starting to fade. No matter, Las Vegas's own KNMX-540 (5KW) is overloading my radio. The station sits just east of I-25 with a two tower array. The main lobe pushes the power towards 341 degrees, across I-25 and over the north part of the town. Time to rest for the night.

Friday April 8

KNMX-540's overload lessens as I leave Las Vegas, and KTSM-690, El Paso, TX fades out totally a few more miles north, giving way to an unidentified oldies station which grows stronger as I near the Colorado state line at Raton, NM. This undoubtedly is Pueblo, Colorado station KWRP-690 which does run the oldies format. A remarkable signal for a distance of 190 miles, KWRP runs only 250 watts during the daytime. KHOW-630 still at 299 miles and KOA-850 at 272 miles continue to improve as I approach Denver.

The southwest is a wonderful place to DX on the radio. Wide, open spaces with few stations assure excellent long distance DX, even in the daytime. If you're ever crossing the country at some time, give it a try. There is no special equipment needed but an in-car radio.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Eastward Bound Once Again

It's that time of year again. Winter is over and it's time to vacate Arizona's deserts and head back to New York for the summer. The projected route is Phoenix-Tucson-Deming-Las Cruces-Albuquerque-Denver - then points east - probably via I-70 or I-80. Will try to do some DXing along the way. No, of course I will do some DXing!

I apologize that a solid month has elapsed without an article. Life and work sometimes get in the way. Though no posts, I have been busy with radio endeavors. In my spare time I've been working on the Radio Data MW program some. Several articles are in various stages of completion and will be published soon. More in the Signal Patterns series are coming. An article on loop inductance calculations is in the works. I'm also working on an article on how multi-towered antenna array signal patterns are computed. Stay tuned.

Happy DXing!