A Mountain Mystery: Receiving a Charleston, WV radio station in the Washington, DC area

96.1 WKWS Charleston, WV

96.1 WKWS Charleston, WV

Very rarely does such an unexpected tropo logging plague a curious DXer’s mind as when I received “96.1 The Wolf” WKWS 96.1 Charleston, WV on 8/9/06.

I vividly remember the day.  The local radio band seemed to be quite dead in terms of propagation enhancement.  Up out of the blue popped in WKWS, at 245 miles away.


Click on the link above to hear my reception of WKWS.

West Virginia radio stations are a fairly rare catch at my Washington, DC-area home, due to the Appalachian Mountains blocking almost all of the state from my radio dial.  To date, I’ve received only a handful of WV stations–almost all of them from the northeastern panhandle region of the state, an area with minimal mountain range interference.  Even so, paths beyond 100 miles to the west, in any situation, are almost unheard of due to the mountains.

I was quite surprised when I looked online to find that WKWS is completely across the mountain range which blocks 99% of all RF signals to the west.

wkws
CLICK TO ENLARGE.  Credit: Google Maps.

The map above shows a straight-line between WKWS and my radio.  Note the Appalachian Mountains in the center of the propagation.

wkws4
CLICK TO ENLARGE.  Credit: Google Earth

The chart above, which shows from Google Earth the terrain levels between WKWS and my home via cross-section, makes my reception of the station seem even more impossible.  According to Radio-Locator.com, WKWS’ transmiter is 1342 ft. above sea level.  Google says my home is about 55 feet above sea level, and I estimate my roof antenna to be about 85 feet above sea level.  The highest mountain peak between Charleston, WV and my home, based on the above chart, 4565 feet–a height that almost surely prevents even the strongest FM signal from making it across as WKWS did.

At first, I started to second-guess my reception, but I knew I had, in fact, received the station.  The program ID heard (“Sunday Gospel Sunrise”) was even referenced in a 2011 letter to the editor in Charleston’s newspaper.  There was no doubt I had received WKWS.

Last week, seven years after my initial logging of the station, the mystery thickened when a fellow DXer brought to my attention a very-informative post on Northern California-area radio enthusiast blog Mendo Radio regarding signal reflections.  The article talks about how two meter ham radio signals have likely been reflected by another, unrelated nearby mountain peak to allow seemingly-impossible reception possible.

reflection
CLICK TO ENLARGE. Credit: Google Maps

It is quite possible that WKWS’ signal was reflected by a mountain peak, hill, or object which could receive signals from both my area and WKWS’ service area of Charleston, WV.  One possible point is at randomly-chosen Hopemont, WV, as noted in the above chart.

I wholeheartedly believe that the theory proposed by the Mendo Radio blog exists.  I believe it is likely what caused WKWS to be received at my house.  I think it is plausible that something close to Hopemont (a mountain peak, metal sign, tractor-trailer) could’ve been in the right place to allow WKWS to belt in on my radio for a brief few moments.  Other potential ‘points of reflection’ could have been in the south-central Virginia area, too.

But with every possible answer comes another problem: When I did a terrain cross section of WKWS to Hopemont to my home, I was hoping to find a less hilly/mountainous path that would support the Mendo Radio theory.  Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

reflection2
CLICK TO ENLARGE. Credit: Google Earth

At first thought, I was ready to dismiss the Mendo Radio article’s theory.  If the range is blocking WKWS the same as a direct path, how would it cause WKWS to be received at my home?  However, further analysis made me rethink my decision.  Since Hopemont, WV is at an indirect path from WKWS to my DC-area home, any potential WKWS reflection would be received at an angle, much like a mirror.  Put that same mirror directly between WKWS and my home (as seen above in the direct line map), and you are likely to not get a successful reflection of WKWS to the DC area.  In other words, height may not be an issue here, or it may even become an advantage (think of the many FM transmitters you see atop mountain peaks–they are there for a reason!).  If there’s something in the Hopemont region that acted as a reflector to the WKWS signal, it would likely be successful at a point not in a direct line with the station’s transmitter and receiving radio’s antenna.

In conclusion, although I may not fully understand the logistics behind signal reflections, it does seem to be a likely reason as to how WKWS made it into the DC area.

Advertisements