Improved tropo reception noted after antenna reinstallation

antennaThe first half of 2013 has proven to be a great year so far regarding tropospheric reception, even in the absence of a tropo duct.

Since I have DXed in the same location for 14 years, I’m at the point where I typically don’t log any new signals by tropo unless a local signal is weak or off-air, or if a rare (typically bi-annual) duct brings in signals further than 250 miles away.  But even with the absence of any tropo ducts this year, as of May 5, I’ve logged 4 new tropo signals within a month–something I haven’t seen for years.

New stations logged via tropo in the past month.

This may be due to the fact that I recently remounted and rewired my Radio Shack VU-90XR rooftop antenna.  I uninstalled the antenna last November prior to the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, as preliminary storm tracks had Sandy going straight to my home area of Washington, DC.  Since the storm veered to the NE, there was no storm damage locally.  Even with that said, I didn’t get around to hooking the VU-90XR back up until April of this year.  Additionally, due to some roof problems at the antenna’s old location, the antenna was moved about 8 feet to the north when reattached.  The antenna was originally installed in 2004 and I assume that it needed some routine maintenance that was inadvertently performed when I reinstalled it.

Upon the start of the 2013 tropo season, which locally starts in April, I still got the same, tired, boring relogs from Norfolk, VA, Richmond, VA, Philadelphia, PA, New Jersey and the Maryland Eastern Shore.  But I noticed that reception conditions with my newly-reinstalled antenna were exponentially better than beforehand, even with minimal tropo enhancement.


Above is a chart where you can see several frequency reception changes from before and after the antenna reinstallation.  Although tropo conditions were better for meteor scatter DXing (quieter, open frequencies) prior to the reinstallation, tropo conditions overall have really improved.

The VU-90XR antenna is much more directional than before.  Prior to the takedown, my antenna would get my Baltimore semi-local signals (~56 miles away) regardless of where I aimed the antenna.  Now, save for Baltimore’s 97.9 and 106.5 signals, I only hear Baltimore stations when aimed NE toward the city.  92.3, 93.1, 102.7 and 105.7, frequencies previously plagued by Baltimore FMs, are now clear and quiet (save for the occasional fade-in) when aiming SW.  I predict this will be a huge help in future tropo and E-skip openings, as in the past distant signals have often had to fight with Baltimore signals for dominance of a frequency.  Semi-local Richmond FMs (~77 miles away) still come in but I have to be aimed right at the stations to get stereo reception during garden-variety tropo.  Norfolk tropo (~130 miles away) has been much stronger from the usual pest signals (89.5, 92.9, 93.7, 94.1, 100.5, 101.3) in dead tropo conditions but they don’t seem to dominate the frequency like before.  I can turn the antenna and null them out—something I’ve never been able to do beforehand, especially with their 92.9.

Above, you can see the chart with the 4 new FM tropo logs in recent weeks.  Typically, to get logs of this kind via tropo, especially 90.5 WBUX, I would’ve needed a huge tropo opening, possibly bringing in 300-mile FMs (and with it, booming local grade IBOC-decoded reception from the regional Norfolk, Eastern Shore and Richmond signals rendering every single open frequency impossible to receive further tropo signals on).  However, all logs above were received under garden-variety conditions where I most likely would NOT have received any new logs prior to the antenna reinstallation.  It just seems that signals rise from the noise level and become new logs whereas before I needed a ‘boost’ by a colossal duct to bring in anything over 150 miles away due to the aforementioned ‘iron curtain’ of 150-mile tropo here.  It’ll be interesting to see how this new setup works when I do get the rare tropo duct which brings stations up to 400 miles away.  I may break the 420-mile distance record and get a further station on a previously impossible ‘open’ frequency, such as 92.9.

A downside with my new antenna installation is that I do ‘hear’ my local IBOC sidebands when tuned to adjacent-to-local FM frequencies from about half of my local FMs regardless of direction the antenna is pointed at.  Beforehand, I only heard the noise while aimed NE toward the locals.  However, it seems the frequencies are oddly more ‘open’ to DXing even with this setback.  For example, 91.1 WDDE came in right over local 90.9 WETA’s IBOC sideband, although staticy, but listenable for a while.  Beforehand, WETA’s 91.1 HD sideband was impossible to override as the station’s signal is strong locally.

I have yet to experience a strong E-skip opening with my new antenna setup.  To date this year, I had weak fadeups <93.7 FM.  Hopefully this means I will get more signals this year via Es, but I’m afraid the new-found directionality of the VU-90XR antenna may preclude some Es signals from coming in, depending on direction.  Beforehand, I typically kept my antenna SW to maximize reception on adjacent-to-local frequencies due to IBOC hash and Es signals came in regardless of where they originated from.  Now, I may have to aim toward the Es now to maximize results.  We’ll see.