When it comes to listening to AM1190, we hear from people across the province, and into parts of Manitoba, Alberta and the United States who listen faithfully over the air. Thanks to the Discover Weyburn app, you can also now listen to the station anywhere in the globe as long as you have internet. However, for one group of hobbyists in Lapland, listening over the app isn’t the way to go. They listen for radio stations, specifically AM stations, over the air and recently, they were able to pick up AM1190 from Weyburn.
The hobby is called ‘dxing’, and it is receiving and identifying distant radio or television signals. The name comes from the telegraphic shorthand for distance – DX.
One of those hobbyists is Graham Bell. He recently booked a week at Aihkiniemi, a dxing base camp in Finland.
“There’s certain conditions that make this possible, and this place in Finland that is up in the Arctic Circle – it's about 1000 kilometres north of Helsinki – and these are Finnish radio fanatics that have set up these two cabins where you go,” explained Bell. “We go in the middle of winter. They have 14 different antennae pointing in different directions, and each one of them is one kilometre long.”
On December 5th, Bell was using the facility and picked up AM1190 from Weyburn. The signal was picked up just after 11:00 p.m. Weyburn time, and the signal was described as very good at peaks.
So, how is this possible? After all, Aihkiniemi is over 6000 kilometres away from Weyburn.
“AM radio signals can travel extraordinary distances at night,” Bell stated. Given that north of the Arctic Circle, it is dark for weeks at a time in the winter, it makes for ideal conditions. The atmosphere itself also plays a role in the signal; Bell added.
“It passes through what's called the ionosphere, which is these layers of positively charged ions – ion is a positively charged particle – and at night some of the lower layers of the ionosphere disappear and the higher layers become more active and then a signal like yours suddenly leaps up and it kind of conducts along, and it can dip down to earth again and then bounce off the earth and go back up again; and that's what was happening to your, signal.”
Bell is currently in Oxford, England, but is originally from Cape Town, South Africa. It was growing up there that he first became interested in just how far AM radio signals could travel.
“When I was a kid we used to have radio grams which were these big pieces of furniture really that had an analog radio dial,” Bell related. “So you would twist the knob and it had a little red indicator and it would move across the dial, and in those days, they used to write the names of certain places that you could hear like BBC or Voice of America or Radio Moscow. Next to it was a radiogram which was a gramophone which my father used to play his jazz records, but I was interested in the radio and I would sort of tune around every now and again and I would hear these distant stations, and yeah, I just got hooked.”
The signals from the AM stations, when the conditions are right, can travel a lot further than the 6000 kilometres from Weyburn to Aihkiniemi. Bell had picked up AM stations from as far away as New Zealand, Hawaii, Alaska and Saskatchewan.
The process of tuning in the stations is rather random. A specialized radio is used, that is connected to one of the 14 antennae that are set up at the facility in Finland. Then, Bell can hook it up to his PC with a USB connection. It then records the entire AM band, from 540 kHz all the way up to 1700 kHz.
“I hit the record button maybe five minutes before the hour and I let it run for 15 minutes because, you know, most stations like yourselves will identify at the top of the hour,” Bell said of the process.
From there, he can go back and listen to the audio that is collected to see which stations came through on that specific recording session. It was this method that tuned in AM1190 on December 5th, and our sister station CJ1150 on December 8th.
As for the hobby itself, Bell said it attracts a specific type of person.
“Well, we’re a bit wacky,” he laughed. “You know, my wife thinks I’m a bit mad, but you know, it’s fun.”