2018 FM E-Skip Year in Review

It started out with a bang but ended without fanfare.  The 2018 Sporadic E-Skip Season is no more, but even though this season has failed to live up to what I thought it would be, I still feel like it was a step in the right direction.

Sporadic E is a method of signal propagation that, when in effect, allows broadcast signals 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.

When I started to monitor daily for FM Es in 2006, living in the summer months usually meant having to plan everything around an always-present Sporadic E opening.  I’ve turned down social invitations and put off errands countless times because a mammoth FM Es opening was brewing on the dial.  Beginning in 2009, Sporadic E came in less and less, getting progressively got worse each year until it hit a lowpoint in 2017, where I only received 33 minutes total of Sporadic E the entire season — compared to 1471 minutes in 2014.

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

On the surface, 2018 seemed to be the first skip season in years where things started to turn around.  This year, I received 347 total minutes of skip with 5 new FM logs from 8 openings.  During this season, I logged my 1900th FM station, and 4 of my 5 new FM logs were received from one unattended opening on 6/6/18.

I was on vacation on June 16-24, 2018.  During that time I had two FM Es openings: one on 6/20/18 while I was outside of New York, NY, which lasted 100 minutes and brought in 26 stations from the Midwest and Upper Midwest.  This opening was very strong, with many distant signals toppling the local NYC FM stations in a manner that I haven’t seen since 2016.  Another respectable opening into the same general area was also observed on 6/26/18 while I was in Providence, RI, with a few RDS decodes but not as strong as the NYC opening.  Within the same time period and weeks thereafter, reports of top-of-the-band FM Es from other DXers flooded into

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WWFD 820 AM goes all-digital in Frederick, MD

DCRTV and Radio-Online report that an AM station in the Washington, DC region has ceased analog broadcasting, becoming the first radio station in the United States to solely broadcast in digital HD Radio.

WWFD 820 Frederick, MD, which airs an AAA format as “The Gamut,” flipped the all-IBOC switch on July 16.  Since I am too far away from WWFD to receive it, I cannot verify if the station simply removed its analog frequency from its broadcast, leaving its existing digital sidebands, or if the station is broadcasting a full power digital signal on its center frequency.

The station’s move to all-digital poses an interesting situation for DXers, as it appears now that at least AM stations can apply to go all-digital.  Does this mean FM stations are next?  I wrote about the possibility of an all-digital FM band in 2013.  In that article, I predicted that such a move would both benefit and hurt the DXing hobby.  For those who aren’t familiar with the mechanics of HD Radio, a station on 95.5 FM running IBOC broadcasts its analog signal on 95.5, and its digital signal (at a lower power) on 95.3 and 95.7.  These adjacent digital “sidebands” ruin DX, as it blocks out all but the strongest distant stations on the frequencies immediately next to a local signal running HD Radio.

If the HD Radio standard supports one sole full power digital signal on the center frequency (i.e. a full power digital 95.5 FM and nothing on 95.3 and 95.7 FM), then this could positively revolutionize FM DXing, as these adjacent-to-local frequencies would, once again, be open to any DX, much like it was prior to the debut of IBOC.  On the other hand, if the FM band became digital-only, a very strong signal would be required to receive any radio station (rendering weak signals invisible to an HD Radio), much like what one experiences with digital TV DXing.

It remains to be seen if WWFD’s digital transition is the first of many to come, or if it is a one-off occurrence.

Unattended recording of RDS/HD Radio decodes possible with WyzeCam

Motion-detected and timestamped screenshot of an HD Radio decode picked up by the WyzeCam on 1/19/18.

DXers with RDS and HD Radio-capable receivers now have a new and interesting way of seeing everything that comes across their radio’s screens while they are away — literally.

Wyze is a home security camera company that sells “WyzeCam,” an HD-quality home security camera.  I purchased a few cameras for my home in the previous month, and I have used them for their intended purpose until I realized that the device opens up a new world of capabilities for the average DXer.

Although I always have two radios continuously recording during the Sporadic E season, the problem is that I can only record audio from them, not screenshots unless I was

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Washington’s Z104: A look at its rise in the 1990s and its fall to Hot 99-5 WIHT

Every hour as a child and teen, I’d hear one phrase echo off of the walls in my bedroom:

“Z104 is WWVZ Braddock Heights/Frederick, WWZZ Waldorf/Washington, DC.”

It’s the legal ID of a radio station I’ll never forget.

The Washington, DC market had three full-time CHR stations in the 1980s: 105.1 “Power 105” WAVA, 106.7 “B106” WBMW, and 107.3 “Q107” WRQX.  Unfortunately for area listeners, these signals slowly left the format one by one — WBMW in 1988, WRQX in 1990, and WAVA in 1992, leaving Washington without a CHR station until 1996, when Z104 debuted.

Z104 was actually two signals: 104.1 WWZZ covering southern Maryland and the south and eastern suburbs of Washington, previously classic hits WXTR “Xtra 104,” and 103.9 WWVZ, which covered the nearby small market of Frederick, MD.  Prior to its debut, WWVZ was CHR as “Z104,” but it was an unrelated station that was replaced with the new Z104 simulcast.

The new signals often referred to itself as “The Z,” its music as “Z tracks,” and the capitol city as “DZ” instead of “DC.” From the get-go, it was obvious that station management knew that the Washington market was without a CHR station for the better half of a decade.  Because of this, the station ingeniously

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Review of the Airspy R2 SDR Radio

Could there be a radio better than the Sony XDR-F1HD?  My answer would have been a resounding “no,” that is, until I came across the Airspy R2.

The Airspy R2, which retails at $169 as of the time of publication, is a software-defined radio, or SDR.  A “mini” version with a few less bells and whistles retails for $99.  With an SMA to Coax adapter, $5 on Amazon, the supplied USB wire, and free SDR tuning programs (more on that below), you have all you ever need for

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To share or not to share: privacy, social media, and DXing

DXing can be a very social hobby.  With annual conventions, message boards, and email lists giving DXers a chance to be heard worldwide at the click of a button, it can be hard to keep anything to yourself.

Advances in technology in the past decade has made it simple to share anything and everything about DXing on multiple social media and file sharing platforms.  One could post a dial scan video on YouTube, photos of their shack on Facebook, or a reception report on a propagation logger.  It can bring people with like interests together in an inviting environment, as well as allow new people to discover what DXing has to offer.  It’s easy to be social in today’s world.

But for some, there is a fine line between being an open book and

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Review of the Insignia NS-HDRAD2 radio

Insignia NS-HDRAD2. Click to enlarge.

My beloved Sony XDR-F1HD radio recently developed a problem where its audio output became garbled with a hum, rendering it useless for DX.  As I often used the F1HD on airplane trips where bringing my larger radios were impractical, I have been on the search for a replacement radio with HD Radio capabilities.  I found the Insignia NS-HDRAD2, which at the time of writing, is $49.99 at Best Buy, but is cheaper on eBay.

I’ve been eyeing this radio for some time, but shied away from purchasing it due to a less-than-stellar review from a friend who bought it and returned it to Best Buy last year.  Given its cheap price, I thought I would give it a chance.  I’m glad I did.

This isn’t the first Insignia HD Radio I’ve used–I’ve owned the

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The effect of HD Radio interference on an analog FM signal

For the past few days, local 96.3 WHUR Washington, DC’s HD Radio signal, which airs on 96.1 and 96.5, has been off-air.  Usually, 96.1 and 96.5 are extremely difficult to DX since WHUR’s digital sidebands are strong at my Northern Virginia home.  However, with WHUR-HD turned off, both of its adjacent frequencies were open to distant reception like they were prior to 2006 when HD Radio debuted on WHUR.  At 8:50 PM February 8, WHUR’s IBOC sidebands resumed its broadcast.

whur_iboc
The above chart shows a waveform of 96.5 FM from 8:49-8:50 PM February 8.  In the beginning, you can see a fairly strong analog signal from 96.5 WKLR Ft. Lee, VA, 92 miles away.  At the 0:05:00 mark, WKLR’s signal decreases as WHUR’s HD revs back up.  at 0:09:50, WHUR’s 96.5 digital sideband is at full-power, and WKLR abruptly disappears without a trace.

Listen to the corresponding audio file to the graphic above.

Translator update: FM dial is worse in Northern Virginia

transistor-radioThree years ago, I wrote about the rising amount of FM translators that have popped up in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC and its effect on FM DXing.  I am updating this article as the local radio landscape has greatly changed since my original 2013 article.

FM translators are low power rebroadcasts of either a full service FM or AM signal.  Or, they can be a relay of an HD Radio subchannel of a nearby signal.  LPFMs, or low-powered radio stations, on the other hand, can originate their own programming and often operate as a community radio station, complete with live and local content.

For the most part, the radio dial in Northern Virginia is much worse than it was in 2013 due to the existence of these signals.  Many of my good, quiet DXing frequencies are gone, replaced instead by a repeater of a signal that I can already get strong elsewhere on

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Mini Review of the Sony XDR-S10HDiP Radio

Sony XDR-SD
Sony XDR-S10HDiP radio

I added a Sony XDR-S10HDiP radio to my shack on April 27.  The radio, which is no longer in production and was purchased used off of eBay, is identical in terms of performance to the Sony XDR-F1HD radio.

This radio will, for the most part, serve as my new go-to radio for dial scanning, since it has built-in speakers.  My other two main radios, the Sony XDR-F1HD and the Denon TU-1500RD, have their audio outputs connected to my computer.  Since the S10 has speakers, I can now easily check reception conditions without

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