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A Paradise for DX-peditions

By Henrik Klemetz

This article was originally published in Radio World magazine. It appears here with permission of the author.

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Fifteen Lappish families raising reindeers live there. Lemmenjoki, which is the name of the place, would mean nothing to anybody were it not for the gold washers and medium wave enthusiasts. The gold-bearing Lemmenjoki river receives numerous adventurers in Summer, from June to August, coincident with the midnight sun phenomenon.

A few months later, during local Fall and Winter, which is perennial night with occasional appearances of the Northern light, more intrepid expeditionaries make it to the place to see what gold-nuggets can be dug out on medium wave.

For the past 15 years or so, Lemmenjoki has turned into a Klondyke for medium wave DXers. From September through March, Finnish DXers come to stay for a fortnight attracted by the idea of receiving low powered stations from all over the world, a 40-Watt station in Canada or a 100-Watt station from Japan or Brazil.

"Everything started in 1972", says Esa J. Hänninen who lives in the Finnish capital Helsinki. "We set out looking for a place in the northern part of the country in order to DX North America. My brother Hannu and me and veteran DXer Hannu Niilekselä tried out some long wire antennas in the north of the country. In 1975, we went to Kevo, the University of Turku Research Station. There, with an antenna partly extended on the frozen river we logged our first Hawaiians".

In search of an appropriate place, Hänninen, in 1981, finally got to Lemmenjoki, way above the Arctic Circle, in the northernmost part of the country. There, right alongside a big lake, there was an abandoned hut, which, however, had electricity. It was one of the very few wooden houses left intact from the II World War. There was room enough for a big antenna farm of no more than 16 Beverage antennas, each of them 1,000 meters long.

"We had a group of 9 DXers who bought the antenna wire and erected initially 8 permanent antennas, all directed to North America", Hänninen remembers. The wire had to be affixed to branches of surrounding trees, all at an altitude in excess of 2 meters, in order to prevent the roaming reindeer herds from bringing down the antennas with their horns.

Baluns are used as antenna lead-ins, and the far end of each 1,000 meter wire is earthed via a 500 Ohm resistor. This arrangement provides for great directional properties towards the far end of the antenna. Co-channel interference from signals coming from a direction other than that of the antenna can thus be attenuated to a great degree, albeit not totally, given the fact that many Europeans and station from the Near East operate with powers in excess of several hundred kW.

In the dark of the Winter nights, with temperatures way below freezing-point, it is a tedious job to check the antennas. "Sometimes we are fortunate to hire a snowsled to make a trail for us below each antenna. If not, we have to walk or ski in the snow with a lantern in our hands to check out that all is OK with the antennas", said Jan-Erik Österholm, another frequent visitor to Lemmenjoki.

All expeditionaries testify to the extreme directional properties of the antennas. "One morning at 0300 UTC, during our January expedition, I was tuned to 1470 kHz. With the antenna directed to La Plata, I got the Brazilian Rádio Ingazeira, from Paulistana, in Piauí, whereas with another antenna, pointing in 297 degrees, the Venezuelan Radio Vibración, from Carúpano was alone on the channel. Changing the antenna to one in 312 degrees, in came KWSL, from Sioux City, Iowa, and with the 335-degree antenna CJVB from Vancourver was the only one to hear. All of these signals came in loud and clear and without any interference", said Österholm.

The receivers used are practically all of the Japan Radio Co. brand, especially their models NRD-515, 525 and 535, although some visitors bring along other lightweight receivers such as AOR-7030. "We use a Sony 2001D as well", Österholm adds, "but we do not use it for DXing, only to track down locally generated interference". More than once, DXers have had to use the direction-finding abilities of this receiver to locate some annoying electrical noise.

"Once, the source of interference was an electric blanket in a house a quite a distance from out hut, but this time the interference - sounding like a threshing machine - came from a bedroom lamp which some Italian tourist had given to the 77-year old lady who owns the hut".

Although there is room for several people in the hut, usually no more than two visitors are allowed at a time, so that each of them can use at least 8 of the permanent 16 antennas. Over the years, there has been more than 120 expeditions to the remote hut which is located on approximately the same latitudes as Point Barrow, in Alaska.

Signals on medium wave, 520 to 1700 kHz, can propagate very far as long as there is darkness or dusk all the way between transmitter and receiver. In mid-June, when sun never sets above the Arctic Circle, the band is void. But from October to February, the situations changes dramatically, and long-distance reception may be possible even along the line of dusk or darkness, a technique known as "greyline DXing".

Also, during the recurrent 11-year solar minimums, propagation conditions may astound even the most experienced DXer. During the past DXing season, all continents have been logged from Lemmenjoki, including Australia, New Zealand and various islands in the Pacific.

For many DXers traveling to Lemmenjoki, the most rewarding experience is to log North American daytimers, either when signing on or when signing off. Veteran DXer Hannu Tikkanen does not mind staying a fortnight in the hut in Lapland. "I have been sitting in front of my radio in Lemmenjoki about 34 weeks of my life", he says. "There is nothing like catching some of the small 40-Watt CBC repeaters in Northern Canada. Last December I managed to hear goodies like CBAK Aklavik, 540, CBIA Gjoa Haven, 640, CBQI Ft Norman, 920, and others".

Tikkanen has verifications from 1,100 North American stations and 600 in Asia. Among his best QSLs are those from American daytimers such as KNX Frnakmuth MI, 1210, WNTN Newton MA, WEVR River Falls WI, WXVA Charles Town WV, all three on 1550, KABI Abilene KS, on 1560 and KZIA Albuquerque NM, on 1580.

Hannu Niilekselä, one of the Lemmenjoki pioneers, says the the past season was the best he has experienced in his 30 years of medium wave DXing. "In December, for several days in a row, US daytimers were logged as early as one or two hours before local sunset. For example, on 1530 kHz, I was able to log daytimer KCLR, in Ralls, Texas, despite the fact that this is channel in Europe is beleaguered by the Vatican Radio's 300/600 kW transmitter and in USA by stations such as WSAI and KFBK".

Niilekselä remembers a curious episode from one of his expeditions. Participating in an international conference in Cancún, Mexico, in September 1996, he found the time to relax on the Cancún beach where he enjoyed listening to a station calling itself Radio Pirate, XEQOO, on 1050 kHz. Although transmitting with a power of 35 kW, the station was not to be found in any of the international frequency lists DXers use for identification purposes.

Back in Finland, one month later, and heading for his regular DX-pedition, Hannu thought he would check 1050 for any sign of the Mexican. There were just the usual stations from USA and Canada, but on 940 the Mexican XEQ was audible and so was a couple of Cubans, so he decided to stay put on 1050. Half an hour was enough. "There was no need to wait for the identification, I immediately recognized their particular program format", said Niilekselä. "But after 10 more minutes, there was the Radio Pirata announcement. I felt warm like on the beach in Cancún. I sent them a report and a few months later they answered by sending me their QSL".

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Lea este articulo en Español.

Henrik Klemetz is an independent journalist writing from Sweden.
This article appears here with permission of the author.

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