2020 FM E-Skip Year in Review

The 2020 Sporadic E season has come to an end.  While the season concluded with a few surprising things, it was largely a disappointment, on par with recent years.

Sporadic E is a method of signal propagation that, when in effect, allows broadcast signals, especially those in the FM broadcast band of 88.1-107.9 MHz, to be received up to 1500 miles away with clear local reception. It can happen any time of the year, but it is most common during the summer months.

READ MY PREVIOUS YEARS’ E-SKIP SEASON REVIEWS DATING BACK TO 2011

After reading about other DXers recording large portions of the radio band RF during sporadic E via their software-defined radios, I decided to upgrade my equipment shortly before the season started in May so I could do the same.  This upgrade gave me the ability to record an almost 10 MHz “swath” of FM (i.e. 88.1 to roughly 97.3 FM) for over a full day nonstop with the ability to rewind and listen to every single frequency in that range like a DVR, increasing my chances of hearing new logs via Sporadic E.  This method replaced my previous ability using two physical radios to record two individual FM frequencies in hopes of finding skip.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans.  The 2020 Sporadic E season began in May with

FM E-Skip opening 7/14/20 into Florida and possibly Cuba

A very brief sporadic E opening brought in a confirmed signal from Florida and a suspected one from Cuba to my home in Northern Virginia on July 14.  At 12:37 PM, a spanish talk or news signal faded in on 92.9 FM very weakly with deep fades.  I was unable to get a positive ID, but I suspected it to be from Cuba.  At the same time, on 93.5 FM I heard a dance station fade in called “Revolution 93.5.”  This “Revolution” signal could’ve been one of three simulcasts that broadcast the format: 93.5 WZFL Islamorada, FL, 93.5 WBGF Belle Glade, FL, or 93.5 W228BY Miami, FL.  I have previously logged both WZFL and WBGF when they were under unique, non-simulcasted formats, so the lack of a true ID during this opening wasn’t really a big deal.  The opening itself lasted about 1 minute total within about 10 minutes of time.

FM E-Skip opening 7/5/20 into AL, FL, and Canada; 1 new FM log

Sporadic E returned twice on July 5, 2020, bringing into Northern Virginia FM signals from Alabama, Florida, and the Canadian Maritimes. The opening into the Deep South region of the US happened around midday, while the second opening into Canada occurred later in the evening.

I missed the opening into Alabama and Florida in its entirety, but I had my Airspy R2 SDR recording all frequencies from 88.1-97.1 FM.  While going over the unattended recordings, I found skip was first noted at 12:07 PM with an unidentified Christian contemporary music station on 89.5 FM.  Like most openings this year, the July 5 opening was weak and short-lived, bringing in about 2 minutes of skip cumulative until about 12:34 PM.  The MUF (maximum usable frequency), or highest frequency skip was observed on was 93.5 FM, although there’s a chance it could’ve gone higher than what frequencies I was recording.

E-Skip returned at 7:50 PM into Quebec and New Brunswick and I was able to DX the opening from beginning to end.  This is the first opening of 2020 to happen in the evening hours–something that was extremely common up until a few years ago.  Signals, much like the earlier opening, were weak but were, for once, sustained and listenable without the peek-a-boo “here one second, gone the next” signals that have plagued FM Es this year.  RDS was easily decoded from several signals, as seen below.  The skip stayed in FM for about 12 minutes cumulative until 8:24 PM with a MUF of 102.1.

My streak of luck this year continues since I somehow, yet again, managed to log a new station out of the most unlikely of weak openings.  I identified new log 89.5 WGTF from Alabama solely by its RDS decode.  I have updated my DX Logs and RDS/HD Radio Screenshots pages with the new content listed below.

new = new station logged

First opening into Alabama and Florida:

88.1 religious
89.1 WSMR Sarasota, FL, classical, 852 miles

89.5 Christian contemporary
new 89.5 WGTF Dothan, AL, “Bible Broadcasting Network” – religious, 689 miles

93.5 country

Second opening into Canada:

89.1 CJBR-FM Rimouski, QC, “ICI Radio Canada Premiere” – french public radio, 788 miles

89.5 CJBR-FM-1 Riviere-Du-Loup, QC, “ICI Radio Canada Premiere” – french public radio, 732 miles

91.5 french
92.3 french
94.3 CBAL-FM-5 Edmunston, NB, “ICI Musique” – french public radio

98.1 “ICI Radio Canada Premiere” – french public radio, unable to ID due to multiple affiliates, suspected CBSI-FM Sept-Iies, QC
102.1 “ICI Radio Canada Premiere” – french public radio, unable to ID due to multiple affiliates, suspected CBGA-FM Matane, QC

FM E-Skip opening 6/21/20 into AR, LA, MS, TN; 3 new FM logs

Sporadic E hit Northern Virginia again on June 21, with a short, but somewhat strong, opening bringing in stations from Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee.  Skip was first observed on 88.9 FM at 4:26 PM when RDS from WMSB from northern Mississippi decoded.  I tuned up one frequency and heard Nashville’s 89.1 WECV in local advertisements.  By that time, I noticed the skip dissipating.  While I was DXing WMSB and WECV, my Airspy R2 software-defined radio (SDR) was recording every FM frequency from 88.1 to 97.1.  Upon later review of the recordings, I found that several other signals from the region came in around the same time that WMSB and WECV did.  One station, which I did not positively identify but am almost certain it is 94.5 KJIW-FM after hearing the station in 2019 during a trip to Memphis, came in off and on until 4:37 PM.  At that point, the opening ended, resulting in about 3 minutes of cumulative skip.

Even with minimal skip on June 21, I still managed to get three new FM logs–something that is unheard of.  The 2020 FM Es season to date, much like the 2018 season, has definitely been quantity over quality.  In years’ past, I have had strong, sustained FM signals coming in from other parts of the country for hours on end, with the stations coming in right over my local radio stations.  For example, look at this opening from June 25, 2018, when I received dozens of signals in a car in Connecticut while on vacation, or this opening from July 16, 2016, where I received 13 new FM logs, many with HD Radio decodes, from the upper Midwest.  That is how Sporadic E should be every year.  Huge openings with countless signals coming in faster than you can handle.  2020, however, has been the complete opposite–weak bursts of signals here and there for a few minutes before it is gone.  Without an SDR, I would not have logged several of the new stations I have heard this summer, as the signals were coming in all at the same time.

I have updated my FM DX Log and HD Radio/RDS Screenshots page with the new content listed below.  Here is what I heard on June 21:

new = new station logged

88.1 religious
new 88.9 WMSB Byhalia, MS, “AFR” – religious, 737 miles

new 89.1 WECV Nashville, TN, “Bott Radio Network” – religious, 548 miles

89.5 christian contemporary music
90.3 public radio
93.5 KBFC Forrest City, AR, “93.5 KBFC” – country, 799 miles
93.7 KXKS-FM Shreveport, LA, “Kiss Country 93-7” – country, 1020 miles
94.1 country
new 94.5 KJIW-FM Helena, AR, religious, area Es, 777 miles

FM E-Skip opening 6/18/20 into AR, OK, TX

In a stunning move this Sporadic E season, skip returned for a second time within a week on June 18 in an opening that would’ve been considered garden variety years ago.  Yet, for the under-performing 2020 season, it remains the best opening this year, with signals sticking around long enough to actually hear an identification.  I missed this opening in its entirety, but I had my Airspy R2 SDR recording all frequencies from 88.1-97.1 FM.  Skip was first noted on 93.5 FM at 10:39 AM, with an unidentified religious station coming in.  Shortly afterward, signals from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas were heard for about 15 minutes sustained between that time and 11:23 AM.  Most of the signals were weak and none decoded RDS, although one signal (92.5 KZPS) was strong enough to briefly overpower semi-local 92.5 WINC.  Although I was unable to monitor above 97.1 FM in my unattended SDR recordings, the highest frequency I observed skip on during the opening was 94.9 FM.

Here’s what was heard from my radio in Northern Virginia during the opening.  All positively-identified stations have been received here previously:

88.1 talk
88.9 “Air 1” – ccm, exact signal unID
89.1 public radio
89.5 KVNE Tyler, TX, “89.5 KVNE” – ccm, 1091 miles
89.5 public radio
91.3 three signals: jazz, religious, and ccm
92.5 KZPS Dallas, TX, “Lone Star 92.5” – classic rock, 1180 miles, over semi-local 92.5 WINC
92.9 KVRE Hot Springs Village, AR, local ads, 917 miles
92.9 KBEZ Tulsa, OK, local ads, 1045 miles
93.5 religious
94.1 spanish (received on 94.159 due to IBOC interference from local 93.9 WKYS – station likely KLNO)
94.5 KZMJ Gainesville, TX “Majic 94-5” – urban AC, 1145 miles
94.9 country

FM Es opening 6/15/20 into MS: 1 new FM log

The 2020 Sporadic E season so far has been highly unusual.  Almost all of the dozen or so openings to date have been favoring the western half of the United States–areas that usually see maybe one or two openings per year, if that.  At the same time, skip on the eastern half of the US, where I am located, is almost nonexistent.  It’s a complete 180 from normal.  I had one opening into Canada for about five minutes on May 30, and on June 15 I had my second, a very brief opening into the deep south of the United States.

While DXers in nearby east coast states reported strong, sustained FM Es on June 15, I had nothing.  I heard a fadeup on 92.9 FM at about 7:15 PM with a local ad for a business along Interstate 10, which is in the southern portion of the US.  I had my Airspy R2 SDR recording all frequencies between 88.1 and 97.5 FM and after checking frequency to frequency, I found one small fade-up of an unidentified religious station on 88.1 FM.  I then hit the jackpot at 7:25 PM, when I heard an unscheduled legal ID from 93.5 WHJT in Mississippi.  I first logged WHJT in 2009 when it was licensed to Clinton, MS, 854 miles away at 6kw.  Since my 2009 logging, I found out that the station moved its transmitter to a location 847 miles away and they also changed their city of license to Kearney Park, MS.  Per WTFDA logging guidelines, the new transmitter location, distance, and city of license mean that I can count this logging of WHJT as a new signal since it is, technically, broadcasting from a different location.  WHJT came in and out weak almost sounding like tropo for about a full minute before disappearing.

Click below to hear the legal ID from 93.5 WHJT Kearney Park, MS:

I have added this new station to my FM DX Log.

Confirmed: HD Radio signals can now have long text IDs

Prior to 2019, whenever I would tune to local 96.3 WHUR Washington, DC, I would see the station’s callsign, “WHUR-FM” appear on my Sony XDR-F1HD‘s radio’s screen when the station’s HD Radio signal decoded, as seen below.  Stations in the United States can display a four-character identification, which most stations utilize to display their callsign, such as WTOP or KRBE.  Some stations, instead, display their station name, such as “BEAT” or “JACK.”  Regardless, the station could also display the “-FM” suffix at the end of their ID if they so chose.

But in May 2019, I noticed the HD callsign on 96.3 WHUR was no longer visible on my radio’s screen when the HD Radio signal decoded:

This was peculiar, because up until now, I never saw an HD Radio station decode without a text ID.  It was one of the few pluses of DXing with an HD Radio receiver.  At the same time, my Insignia NS-HD01A (left below) and a Toyota car radio (right below) that I checked both displayed a different HD text identification: “WHUR HD.”

Shortly after this revelation, I surmised that newer HD Radio receivers like the two pictured above had the ability to display a custom length HD text ID, while older radios, such as the Sony XDR-F1HD further up in this post, could not, hence the blank space where the HD text ID should appear.

In March, I noticed that nearby 103.7 WURV from Richmond, VA decoded HD Radio on my XDR-F1HD radio with a blank text ID, just like WHUR.  It wasn’t until the early morning hours of June 2 when my NS-HD01A radio decoded HD Radio from WURV that I realized they now have a 10-character HD text ID: “103.7 Play,” which is also the station’s name.

HD Radio debuted in the United States in the mid-2000s.  Until now, all stations had up to a four character HD Radio text ID.  My reception of WURV on June 2 confirms that stations nationwide are now rolling out a longer station ID.  This should be of minimal concern to those listening to HD Radio in their cars, as those radios are, more or less, fairly new.  The late model car radios should easily decode the longer text IDs.  The issue comes with those who may have an early generation HD Radio receiver, as the affected station(s) may no longer show any identification at all on-screen.  This is a downside for FM DXing, since we can now no longer fully rely on the station’s text ID for a positive identification.

First FM Es opening of 2020 into Canada; 1 new FM log

Northern Virginia’s first Sporadic E-Skip opening of 2020 was heard at my home on May 30.  I actually slept in and missed the entire opening, but I was recording all frequencies from 88.1-97.1 FM via the Airspy R2 software-defined radio, so I was able to “relive” the opening in its entirety within those frequencies later that day.  The opening started at about 11:00 AM on the dot and was fairly weak, with a few strong signal fade-ins, until about 11:52 AM.  Signals were from the Canadian Maritimes and although I was only recording up to 97.1 FM, the MUF, or maximum usable frequency (the highest frequency FM Es was observed) was 93.5 FM.  Overall, about 5 minutes of continuous skip heard throughout the hour.  I was able to identify one new station via RDS decode by its PI code: 88.9 CHNI-FM.  92.9 CFLT-FM, which also came in today with RDS, is a relog here, but this is the first time I received RDS from them via the Airspy R2.  I have updated my DX Logs and RDS/HD Radio Screenshots pages with the new content listed below.

new = new log
unID = unidentified signal

new 88.9 CHNI-FM St. John, NB, “Q88.9” – rock, 736 miles

89.1 unID public radio
89.5 unID public radio and french signals
91.3 unID public radio
92.3 unID french over semi-local 92.3 WERQ Baltimore, MD
92.9 CFLT-FM Dartmouth, NS, “92-9 Jack FM” – adult hits, 813 miles

92.9 WEZQ Bangor, ME, sports, 614 miles
92.9 unID french music, likely CKLE-FM Bathurst, NS
93.1 unID classic rock
93.5 unID music and french signals

The shortest FM tropo duct ever

Sangean HDR-14 portable AM and FM HD Radio

One of the strangest things I’ve noticed while DXing happened during the early morning hours of May 21, 2020.  I was in the process of a dial scan with my Sangean HDR-14, finding no signs of tropo enhancement whatsoever.  As I tuned to 102.7 FM, the usual somewhat strong signal from Baltimore’s 102.7 WQSR (57 miles away from me) faded out to static a few seconds after tuning to it.  I heard other music playing.  I didn’t catch the station name at the end of the song, but I heard part of an ad: “…for New York State residents…”  I assume that I heard New York City’s 102.7 WNEW, an occasional visitor to my home in Virginia, at 223 miles away.  I tuned up to 102.9 and heard a clear signal from Norfolk, VA’s WOWI, which is in the opposite direction from WNEW, at 140 miles away.  WOWI is a very common summer visitor, but not by itself with no other stations coming in from its broadcast area.

I started tuning around, thinking a tropo duct was starting to form.  I tuned by 92.3, which is usually occupied by Baltimore’s WERQ-FM, hoping to hear New York’s WNYL, a “beacon” of sort that always comes in over WERQ-FM when a duct to NYC is forming.  No sign of it.  I tuned back to 102.9 FM to find WOWI gone and the usual occupant of the frequency heard here, WKIK California, MD, was heard instead.  I tuned down to 102.7 and found WQSR back strong with stereo and decoded RDS.

What I experienced was a two-minute tropo duct opening.  New York City stations are a rare catch in my area.  I usually only receive them once or twice a year, and every time, the stations come in quickly, stay for maybe an hour, and then disappear, being replaced by other nearby signals from closer Philadelphia, Norfolk, and other nearby markets.  This opening, however, was rare in that there was zero reception from any of the powerhouse Philadelphia or Delmarva Peninsula stations that usually flood in with the NYC signals.